Canada’s households are changing, so marketers’ should too

The 2016 census data released by Statistics Canada last week, which focused on the country’s households, offers a great deal for marketers to chew on.

For starters, while CMOs probably didn’t need official census data to learn that fewer Canadians than ever live in households composed of two parents and at least one child, Statistics Canada can now confirm that such families barely comprise two-thirds of all Canadians, and probably a good deal less than that: According to the data, 9.5 million of the country’s 14.1 million households, or 67.7 per cent, contain at least one “census family,” a broad term that includes lone-parent families, married or common-law couples without children, and families with both parents and kids.

On a related note, the data also revealed that a greater proportion of Canadians – 28.2 per cent – are now living in one-person households than at any point in the country’s history.

And while I’m not good enough at math to calculate the number of Canadian households without children (at least partly because StatsCan does not appear to have revealed the number of single parents with children), we do know the above percentage is high enough to officially make one-person households the most common type in Canada. (Couples with children were the second most popular type of household in Canada at 26.5 per cent.)

Even among couples, children are barely the norm: according to the data, only 51.1 per cent of couples have at least one child.

And in case you’re wondering about the gender breakdown of one-person households, 53.7 per cent were female.

The fastest-growing type of household: “multigenerational”

That isn’t to say the statistics implied that it’s all doom and gloom for Canada’s families. In fact, StatsCan’s data showed that one type of household was actually growing: multigenerational – that is, households that include at least three generations of the same family.

Typically associated with non-white ethnicities (writes the white-skinned person who grew up in a multi-generational household with his brother, second-generation Turkish-Cypriot mother, and her Cyprus-born parents), multigenerational households don’t represent a large proportion of Canadian families – only 403,810 households, or 2.9 per cent – but their numbers grew by 37.5 per cent between 2001 and 2016.

And as StatsCan itself notes with the authority of one predicting the sun’s rise in the east, “the increase in multigenerational households may be partly attributed to Canada’s changing ethnocultural composition.”

Why aren’t marketers making a bigger deal of this?

Again, none of these statistics should sound groundbreaking, especially if you’ve heard about the so-called “silver tsunami” that’s predicting a steep rise in demand for products and services that assist the elderly over the next few decades.

But they would have surprised me if I based my concept of a “Canadian family” solely on what I see in advertising, where – despite being a single male constantly logged into Facebook and Google accounts that are no doubt constantly letting marketers know about my interests and demographic group – only families with children are interested in using financial services or Google Home; only male executives have accumulated enough of the drive that presumably comes from living alone to seek out cloud services; and only childless (not to mention heterosexual) couples are inclined to take vacations.

That the idealized world presented by Canadian marketing has fallen behind the reality is hardly a new idea either, but the argument is usually applied to gender, race, or income: The latest data shows that marketers have failed to capture what most of us experience at home too.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Eric Emin Wood
Eric Emin Wood
Former editor of turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.

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