The debate over income inequality and poverty in Canada is a hot topic that has long had the attention of leaders at the highest levels. Even so, the inequality debate in Canada among politicians, policy analysts, the academic community, and the media has largely ignored the role of a monumental social change over the last four decades: increased family fracturing.

A new Cardus study, Missing Family Dynamics, by policy analyst Mark Milke, notes that divorce and separation shot up by 134 percent in Canada between 1971 and 2016. Yet there has been relatively little study of how social and cultural factors affect families, which then in turn affect statistics on poverty and income inequality.

For example, female lone-parent families had median after-tax incomes 52 percent lower than two-parent families in 2011 – only a modest improvement from the 61 percent gap of 1976. And male lone-parent families had median after-tax incomes 39 percent lower than two-parent families in 2011. That’s worse than the 25 percent gap that existed in 1976. In other words, family makeup matters to poverty statistics and potentially to inequality data.

“With the focus in the public debates often only on economic data, the debates on inequality and poverty are unnecessarily limited,” says Milke. “When one family splits into two, there is the potential to increase poverty because two households are typically more expensive to maintain than one.” Another factor in inequality is the rise in unattached individuals – rocketing up by three quarters between 1976 and 2014 to 16% of the population. Unattached individuals, however, have median after-tax incomes almost 70% lower than a two-parent family.

“It appears the large rise in fractured families and folks living alone could affect inequality in Canada,” says Andrea Mrozek, family program director at think tank Cardus. “Not choosing to acknowledge this and study it further hinders our search for solutions. This is a fertile field for further study by policy makers and academics and with the release of this paper today we are opening up that discussion.”

Missing Family Dynamics recommends that policy-makers and the academic community do the following:

  • Focus thought, study, and analysis on the non-economic causes of family fracturing.
  • Recognize that family fracturing is itself a cause of poverty and can affect inequality statistics.
  • Take policy steps toward family stability, for example, by reducing financial pressures on families.
  • Encourage individuals, religious institutions, non-profits, and other non-government institutions to support families and help those who struggle with poverty or inequality because of family fracturing.

Download a complimentary copy of Missing Family Dynamics.

Daniel Proussalidis is Director of Communications at Cardus, a Canadian think tank.

Read his original press release at Cardus.