This paper examines some of the trends and statistics that impact families and marriage in Québec in such areas as the economy, taxation, government programs and policies (including the provincial daycare program), as well as fertility, marriage, divorce and cohabitation rates. Québec is breaking new ground in family and social policy, and challenging traditional notions of marriage and family life—sometimes for good and, more often, in ways that are problematic.
The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) monitors statistics pertaining to marriage and family across the country as part of its work to strengthen Canadian families. Québec represents a perfect starting point, given its unique character and the desire among some academics, activists and government officials in the rest of Canada to emulate Québec’s family policy framework—most particularly the provincial daycare program. This is not advisable.
There are real reasons to be concerned about the sustainability of the rather ambitious Québec welfare state. Without substantial fiscal restructuring, the province may not be able to afford to maintain the extensive social benefits it currently offers families. Furthermore, without the re-creation of a marriage culture in Québec, should government benefits be curtailed due to budget restrictions, families will find it harder to recover.
Below is a brief synopsis of some of the more striking positive and worrisome trends.
Québec’s fertility rate is increasing: In 2004, Québec’s fertility rate was 1.48 increasing to 1.74 in 2008. Canada’s fertility rate in 2004 was 1.53 increasing to 1.68 in 2008.
Québec’s education outcomes are relatively good compared to those of other provinces (though this is changing as seen in more recent reports).
Québec weathered the recent recession better than other provinces: Québec’s economy is currently doing well. Unemployment has fallen from a 9% peak in 2009 to 7.3% in May 2011 and wages are rising. Forecasts indicate that GDP should grow by 3.5% this year.
Tax rates are high: A single income family with two children between the ages of six and 17 earning $60,000 a year will have a tax bill of $15,437 in Québec—compared to $12,429 in Ontario and $11,193 in Alberta. The difference becomes even more pronounced for a similar family making $80,000—which would have to pay $23,164 in Québec, compared to $19,055 in Ontario and $17,593 in Alberta.
Marriage rates are low: Canada’s marriage rate (the number of marriages per 1000 people) was 4.4 in 2008, as compared to 2.9 in Québec.
Cohabitation rates are high relative to other provinces and countries: For example, in Canada, 18.4% of all couples living together are not married compared to 34.6% of Québec couples.
Québecers are increasingly dependent on government to raise their children: The creation of a provincial daycare system created a spike in children who are in institutional daycare from just above 10% in 1994 to over 50% in 2006.
A “demographic winter” is coming: Québec is ageing more quickly than other Canadian provinces. Estimates show that by 2031, each Québec dependent will be supported by only 1.6 people in the active age group (between 15 and 64).