Climate of Change - The changing face of family

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Over the years the concept of what constitutes a “family” has changed dramatically.  When I was growing up, a family usually referred to a father, mother and a number of children, often with one or more older relatives living in the same household. Older children left home as soon as possible after they turned sixteen to make a living, or stayed put to help operate the family farm or the family business.  But, older children often helped their parents raise younger siblings as did live-in grandparents or aunts and uncles. Many families lived on farms or in small towns and villages back then. But times have changed.

According to Statistics Canada, in 1851 it was common for a Canadian family to include 12 family members. By 2011, the average Canadian family included 2.5 people.  Over the past number of years, Canadian families have shrunk even further, and a person living alone is now  common. In fact, in 2011 households with only one person made up almost 28% of all Canadian households. This trend towards smaller families and single person households continue, and in 2016 single people living alone was the most common type of household in the country.  By 2017, the old concept of family that included a heterosexual couple and between one and four children made up only 26% of households in Canada. Two years later, the trend away from that stereotype continues.

While families and households have changed dramatically, federal and provincial social and economic policies reflect outdated objectives that promote two-parent-with-children families.  Political types like to refer to these policies as promoting “family values.”  For example, our town planners still encourage large park areas and playgrounds in all new neighbourhoods, and the “single family home” is still touted as the most popular form of housing in Cochrane.

However, in some areas of town, there are large populations of singles living in townhouses and condominiums who often prefer places for passive recreation, such as dog-walking, photography and cycling.  Rather than having the landscape flattened to make way for buildings, pavement and jungle gyms, some folks in these communities would like to retain the natural landscape contours along their pathways, and have a few benches where they may sit and read. Many of the new families moving to Cochrane do not have children and will not have children.

Our taxation policies reflect a preference for two-income families where spousal allowances and duo-income calculations allow for significant tax breaks that singles are simply not afforded. These types of outdated policies based on antiquated ideologies about families and family-values put singles at a disadvantage in many ways. The policies do not recognize the tremendous tax burden placed upon single person households even though they are the most prevalent family type.

It is time that governments look at demographics and think about new policies to support singles and other non-traditional families and households. For example, as a society we tend to ignore the high number of single dads within our communities who work all day at physically demanding jobs and who are responsible for raising children of the marriage when they get home.  We do need more daycares and day homes to help single dads and single moms raise their children.  But, what else do they need and should society provide for these needs?  Have you ever thought about designing a whole neighbourhood for single dads?  What would it look like and what kinds of social and physical infrastructure would it require to effectively support single dads and their kids?

I think it is time that we start building our community to reflect new family values rather than trying to force outdated and idealistic concepts of family on everyone who lives in this community, this province and this country.  It’s time our taxation policies reflect the trend to smaller and non-traditional families. We all need to take note that what was once considered a traditional family is going the way of the dodo. Furthermore, government financial incentives that perpetuate old notions need to stop because no matter how many incentives are provided, people these days seem to prefer to live alone.