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Black families and socio-economic inequality in Canada.


There have been virtually no recent census-based studies on the familial characteristics of black Canadians. The present study is a partial replication and extension of a study on black families published two decades ago by Christensen and Weinfeld (1993) and based on the 1986 Canadian census. The present paper utilizes the 2006 census in order to examine the current conditions of black families in Canada and assess what has changed since 1986 in the composition, marital status, and income of these families. Findings indicate that black families are more culturally heterogeneous than ever. Despite this, racial disparities in family formation and household income have only accentuated since 1986, bearing unique consequences for native and foreign-born black men and women. On the whole, relatively more black Canadians 25-44 years of age were single and never married, divorced, or separated in 2006 than in 1986. Between 1986 and 2006, the disparities in income between black families with young children and the general population have grown larger, both for single and dual parent families. The consequences of higher family instability, lone-parent families, economic insecurity and poverty for black families can only be detrimental for the welfare of children, particularly in a context of racial inequality. These issues deserve to be further investigated.


Il n'existe aucune etude recente sur les caracteristiques des familles noires au Canada qui se base sur les donnees du recensement. En plus de presenter de nouvelles analyses sur les familles noires, cette etude reprend en partie celles effectuees il y a 20 ans par Christensen et Weinfeld (1993) a l'aide des donnees du recensement de 1986. Les objectifs sont, d'une part, d'examiner les circonstances des familles noires selon la composition du menage, le statut conjugal et le revenu familial par le biais du recensement de 2006 et, d'autre part, de comparer ces resultats avec les donnees de 1986. L'heterogeneite culturelle des familles noires va grandissante. Les resultats demontrent que les disparites raciales ont augmente au sein de la population noire depuis 1986 quant a la formation des familles et le revenu des menages, et imposent des consequences uniques pour les femmes et hommes noirs nes au Canada ou a l'exterieur. Entre 1986 et 2006, les disparites de revenu ont augmente entre les menages comprenant des enfants noirs et la population generale. Ces disparites sont presentes autant chez les familles monoparentales que biparentales. L'instabilite conjugale, vivre dans une famille monoparentale, l'insecurite economique et la pauvrete peuvent avoir des effets nefastes pour le bien-etre des enfants issus de familles de la minorite noire et ce, particulierement dans un contexte d'inegalites raciales. Ces questions meritent d'etre approfondies.


The present paper discusses findings from an exploratory and descriptive study on black families in Canada that seeks to explore the conditions of black families in 2006 and assess the degree to which circumstances have changed or improved for these families since 1986. The study is a partial replication and extension of a previous census-based study on black families in 1986, published by Christensen and Weinfeld (1993). To the best of our knowledge, the study has never been replicated. It is not yet certain how or if the voluntary nature of the new National Household Survey of 2011 will impact responses to questions on racial origin or income for disadvantaged groups. We thus have greater confidence in comparing the Canadian censuses for 1986 and 2006.

In the Canadian literature on racial and ethnic inequalities, much of the attention has been concentrated on measuring the earnings of individuals or households; relatively fewer studies have explored the implications of racial income inequalities for the welfare of families with children (Picot and Hou 2003; Worswick 1996). The empirical evidence has consistently shown that blacks and other visible minorities earn significantly less than white Canadians, even when background factors are the same (Mensah 2010; Pendakur and Pendakur 2010; Pendakur and Pendakur 2002; Skuterud 2010).

In the present paper, we explore the association between income inequality, family structure, and the welfare of black families with children. The paper is motivated by the well-known finding that poverty and inequality exert a significant impact on the well-being and opportunities of families and their children. Studies have repeatedly shown that the socio-economic status of the family is the most significant determinant of a child's educational attainment and his or her long-term employment and earnings in adulthood (Blum, Boyle, and Offord 1988; Lopoo and DeLeire 2014).

The issues of race, inequality, and family structure have been the focus of much research in the American socio-demographic literature, much less so in the Canadian (Allen 1979; Furstenberg 2009; McLanahan and Percheski 2008). The black population in the United States (US) differs significantly in terms of history, the legacy of slavery and racism, the role of recent immigration, and demographic characteristics. In Canada, the overwhelming majority of blacks are immigrants or the children of immigrants, in contrast to the US where the majority are native-born. Nevertheless, similar questions concerning race, income, family structure and children's life chances can be posed.

One of the principal findings from Christensen and Weinfeld (1993) was the central role of family structure in accounting for the higher proportion of black children living in low-income households in 1986. In general, black children in 1986 were significantly more likely than all Canadian children to be found in low-income households. However, when family structure was held constant black children were only slightly more likely than other Canadian children to be found in low-income households. Hence, the major cause of low-income was the same for black children and other Canadian children, namely single-parent status. A goal of the present paper is to use the 2006 census to revisit this question and explore the connections between racial inequality, family structure, and the economic welfare of black families with children in Canada.


Theoretical and Empirical Perspectives

The empirical and theoretical scholarship on black families has a much longer history in the US, and dates back to the early work of scholars like W.E.B. Du Bois (1908) and E. Franklin Frazier (1939). In Canada, there is an impressive body of historical and contemporary writing about black Canadians, although relatively few publications have specifically explored the subject of black families (Mensah 2010; Winks 1971). One exception is a book on the Caribbean diaspora in Toronto, written by Frances Henry (1994), which presents an intimate look at black family life and relationships.

Given the limitations of the scholarship on black families in Canada, the present paper reviews the theoretical and empirical knowledge base on black families in the US in order to gain some understanding of the forces that may be at work in influencing the welfare, organization, and challenges of Canadian black families today. The literature review that follows also briefly discusses the relevant historical and current research on black families in, or from, the Caribbean and Latin America (Goulbourne and Chamberlain 2001; Mintz and Price 1976; Herskovits 1958).

While the scholarship from the US is undeniably insightful and instructive, it is important to be cautious in generalizing the findings to the Canadian context. In the US, African-Americans account for about 14% of the entire population; of this proportion, 91% are native-born, including many who are multi-generational (United States Census Bureau 2011). In Canada, blacks represent roughly 2.5% of the population, and with the exception of black communities in Nova Scotia, most are immigrants or the children of immigrants. Despite these differences, black family structures in the US and Canada do exhibit some similarities. Therefore, the US literature may offer some helpful hints for thinking through the causes of racial disparities in family welfare in Canada.

One issue that has long been at the centre of scholarly debate on black families in the US is whether racial differences in family structure are due to class or culture (Allen 1979; Cherlin 1998). These debates reached their height at the time of the publication of the well-known Moynihan report on black families, which was released in the late 1960s and later criticized for fuelling racial stereotypes of black families as matriarchal and trapped in a "tangle of pathology" (Moynihan 1967; Furstenberg 2009). Moynihan argued that a major cause for black inequality in the US was the increase in single parent families, which he traced to the aftermath of slavery and Jim Crow.

To some extent, the debates provoked by the Moynihan report have faded. As income inequality has deepened and forced many more American families into a state of poverty and economic insecurity, racial disparities in family structure have begun to diminish, particularly among the poor and working-class. Indeed, the growing convergence in family structures between low-income black and white families has led some American scholars to propose that social class is the fundamental cause of racial disparities in family structure (Furstenberg 2009; Hummer and Hamilton 2010).

Empirical support for the "social class" argument comes from the well-established finding that income and education both bear a significant and positive correlation with a whole host of family-related variables such as childbearing, marriage, co-habitation, divorce, or re-marriage (Carlson and England 2011). The relationship between social class and family formation has also grown stronger as inequality in the US has intensified. The college-educated in the US today are more likely than any other group to be married and to bear children in marriage (Carlson and England 2011; Cherlin 2009). For American women with low to moderate levels of education, the chances of becoming a single parent have nearly doubled since 1965 (Cherlin 2009). Qualitative studies have revealed that low-income black and white women prefer to delay marriage and put childbearing first because they believe in waiting for a partner who can guarantee a certain degree of economic security (Edin and Kefalas 2005; Gibson-Davis, Edin, and McLanahan 2005).

Even when social class is the same, black Americans continue to be less likely than whites to marry and co-habit, and more likely to be single parents (Cherlin 1998; Hummer and Hamilton 2010; Raley and Sweeney 2009). The marital and cohabiting unions of black Americans are also more fragile (Cherlin 2009; Hummer and Hamilton 2010; Sweeney and Phillips 2004). These and other findings underscore the role of racial discrimination in compounding the effects of class inequality (Carlson and England 2011; White and Rogers 2000). Poverty rates are much higher among black Americans and even middle-class blacks possess a fraction of the wealth and assets of middle-class whites (Oliver and Shapiro 2006). The massive scale of joblessness, declining real wages, and incarceration of the last decades in the US have wrought devastating consequences on many black families and created what some have claimed is a shortage of "marriageable" black men (Wilson 1997). The impact of incarceration on Canadian black families has yet to be explored, although racial disparities in federal and provincial prisons are large and growing (Owusu-Bempah and Wortley 2014; Sapers 2013).

The notion that fewer black men are in a position to marry and support a family in the US spurred a series of studies examining the impact of unequal sex ratios on black marriage rates and family structure. Results have shown that sex ratios do, in fact, bear a significant correlation with racial differences in marriage, non-marital childbearing, and lone-parent households (Fosset and Kiecolt 1991; Lichter, McLaughlin, Kephart, and Landry 1992).

Scholarly interest in the cultural roots of black family structure waned after the publication of Moynihan's report, but did not completely disappear. In one recent review, Mill (2009) proposes that African traditions in the US were either reinforced by slavery (e.g., female work roles, extended families) or completely destroyed (e.g., polygamy). Scholars have long wondered whether the more extensive kinship networks of African-Americans are vestiges of an African past or an adaptation to the instability and harsh realities of plantation slavery (Angel and Tienda 1982; Cherlin 1998). Sudarkasa (1981; 1998) contends that black kinship networks have reflected a West African tradition of valuing consanguineous ties (i.e., blood relations) over the conjugal bond. Stevenson (1995), on the other hand, contends that kin networks grew in importance during slavery because they were often the only structures that could sustain and hold families together when plantation owners would irrevocably break households apart through the forced transfer or actual sale of parents, children, and other family members.

The cultural explanation, while intriguing and certainly relevant, is hard to prove empirically. Extended family networks have not only been a trait of black families in the US, but also white families and other ethnic groups (Dilworth-Anderson, Burton and Johnson 1993; Ruggles 1994). Some findings suggest that kin networks have been denser in black families because they meet vital economic and practical needs, which would explain their higher prevalence among single parent black families (Angel and Tienda 1982). When attitudes towards marriage and family are examined, few differences between blacks and whites are found; both groups express an abiding belief in the mainstream ideal of the nuclear family (Bulcroft and Bulcroft 1993). While some evidence suggests that blacks and whites hold differing attitudes towards gender, the findings are inconclusive. Depending on the study, black Americans are either more egalitarian or more conservative than whites in their views on gender (Kane 2000).

Compared to the US, there is more definitive evidence of African cultural survivals in the Caribbean, especially among the descendants of escaped slaves, such as the Maroons, who established their own independent settlements in locations safely removed from plantation slavery (Mintz and Price 1976). On the whole, the consensus seems to be that family structures in the Caribbean are the products of a long and devastating history of colonialism and racial and economic oppression. Due to structural forces like colonial bans on legal marriage, chronic poverty, and out-migration, black families in the Caribbean have adopted a fluid and flexible set of arrangements that might consist of consensual unions, "visiting" unions, extended families, or female-headed households, in addition to the western model of the nuclear family and husband-wife dyad (Barrow 2001; Blackwood 2005; Safa 2005). Marriage is particularly infrequent among the poor because there is a belief that one ought to be financially secure before getting legally married (Dreher and Hudgins 2010).

In the debates on the class versus culture argument, one issue that has been relatively neglected is the role of racial discrimination and its impact on black families. Some of the relevant recent research looks at race and marriage in the US military (Lundquist 2004; Teachman and Tedrow 2008). As one of the most racially integrated institutions in the US, the military serves as a kind of "natural" experiment for studying the role of race. Unlike any other institution, the military guarantees that blacks enjoy the same access to basic services and resources like housing, health care, childcare, and retirement pensions. In one study, Lunquist (2004) found that racial disparities in marriage between white and black active duty personnel actually disappeared. In a second study, Teachman and Tedrow (2008) observed that black men in the Army showed a substantially lower risk of divorce. When black men returned to civilian life, their rate of divorce went back to its pre-existing level. The authors infer from these findings that opportunities in the military put blacks on a more equal playing field with whites and diminish the structural impediments stemming from racial stratification and discrimination. Unlike most settings, blacks in the military are more well-represented at all levels of the professional hierarchy (Lunquist 2004; Teachman and Tedrow 2008).

Empirical Evidence on Black Families in Canada

Questions about marriage and family structure among Canadian blacks have not received the same amount of attention as in the United States. To date, the demographic literature on black families in Canada is limited to a handful of publications (Calliste 2001; Christensen and Weinfeld 1993). There is certainly a rich and substantial tradition of writing about black Canadians; yet, much of this work examines the experiences of blacks as individuals or as a group. In spite of these limitations, insights about black families can be gleaned from the growing number of studies on sub-groups of the black population, namely children, young adults, parents, men and women, and recent immigrants (Henry 1994; Smith, Lalonde and Johnson 2004; Tettey and Puplampu 2005).

A consistent body of evidence has shown that black families and children in Canada are more at risk than others of confronting difficulties related to income inequality and poverty, immigration, and racial discrimination (James, Este, Bernard, Benjamin, Lloyd and Turner 2010; Bernard and McAll 2008; Lavergne, Dufour, Sarmiento, and DesCoteaux 2009). Recent studies of the 2001 and 2006 census data indicate a possible reversal in these trends, particularly for the black second-generation, which has now reached close to economic parity with native whites (Attewell, Kasinitz and Dunn 2009; Mensah 2010). Recent immigrant blacks in Canada face unique barriers due to a lack of recognition of foreign credentials, language differences, refugee status, and macro-economic forces such as labor market segmentation and a widening gap between rich and poor (Mensah 2010; Opoku-Dapaah 2006; Reitz 2007).

Previous Canadian studies have shown that the prevalence of single-parent families is higher among blacks than other Canadians (Christensen and Weinfeld 1993; Calliste 2001; Henry 1994). In a recent report on the family structure of racial and ethnic groups in Canada, Mata (2011) observed that the percentage of female single parents in 2006 was especially high among immigrant women of Somali and Caribbean origin. These findings are noteworthy because Caribbean and Somali women have often been compelled by law or circumstance to migrate to Canada alone or as single mothers. Caribbean women arriving as migrant workers in Canada, often (though not solely) in domestic work, have been legally and often financially obligated to leave spouses and children behind in the home country (Arat-Koc 2001). For Somali women, conditions prior to their arrival in Canada often drove them to become single-parents: either husbands lost their lives through war or the family was forced to separate in the process of seeking asylum in Canada (Israelite et al. 1999; Spitzer 2006). Miraftab (2000) reports that close to three-quarters of the 35 Somali families in his Vancouver study had children or spouses who remained behind in Africa, leaving Somali mothers as the "de facto" heads of household in Canada.

As we would expect given the above findings, fewer black men and women are found in marital and common-law unions than other Canadians. In addition, the risk of divorce and separation has been slightly higher among blacks (Christensen and Weinfeld 1993). These racial differences may vary as a function of social class. In one study on the 1991 census, Calliste (2001) found that blacks with either a postsecondary education or above average income were as likely as other Canadians to be married and in a two-parent household.

One of the more important themes running through the literature on blacks in Canada is the role of immigration and settlement in altering the composition, welfare, and cohesion of black families. Scholars have found that immigration often has a disruptive impact on families that is compounded by factors like poverty, unemployment, racism, and cultural and language differences (Click 2010; Howell 2006; James et al., 2010). Henry (1994) and Donkor (2012) describe the experiences of Caribbean and African couples whose marriages fell apart after immigrating to Canada, because men and women had developed differing and conflicting views about gender. As women gain increased access to economic opportunities in Canada, the traditional division of labor and power in the household is upset and gender roles must be re-negotiated, especially if women are balancing responsibilities for household work, childcare, and paid employment. This transformation in gender roles is not unique to black families; indeed, immigrant men and women from a wide range of backgrounds often struggle to conform to a new balance of gender relations upon moving to Canada or elsewhere (Howell 2006).

In Christensen and Weinfeld (1993) one of the most striking findings was the magnitude of the sex ratio imbalance between black men and women. In 1986, there were 86 black men for every 100 black women in Canada. For the Canadian population as a whole, the sex ratio was rather predictable: 102 men for every 100 women. As Christensen and Weinfeld (1993) suggested, the most likely cause of this imbalance is Canadian immigration policy and its preference for female migrant workers from the Caribbean. As early as the 1950s and 1960s, the federal government began inviting thousands of Caribbean nurses and domestic workers to migrate to work on temporary visas in Canada (Arat-Koc 2001; Calliste 2001). While the government eventually ended its recruitment of foreign nurses, it has continued to operate a foreign domestic worker program, today known as the "Live-In Caregiver Program" (Arat-Koc 2001). Consequently, the number of Caribbean female migrants continues to outstrip the number of male migrants from the region. Darden (2006) finds that from 1961 to 1996, the ratio of black female to male immigrants from the Caribbean and Bermuda averaged at 128:100, thus maintaining a large sex imbalance among Caribbean-born blacks (Darden 2006). As cited earlier, legal restrictions on the rights of live-in caregivers in Canada have long forced Caribbean women to settle in the country alone and without spouses and children. Many of these women would sponsor children later on, creating lone-parent families. The long-term separations of women from their spouses and children can also weaken family bonds, leading to permanent ruptures in conjugal relationships or an emotional distance between parents and their children that can be hard to undo and overcome (Henry 1994; Lashley 2002; Smith et al. 2004).

Christensen and Weinfeld (1993) observed a similarly unequal sex ratio for Filipino women and men, who have also been among the groups migrating to Canada as temporary workers. Contrary to black women, however, Filipino women were actually more likely than Filipino men to be married in 1986. The authors proposed that one possible reason for this discrepancy is the higher rate of racial exogamy among Filipino women. Recent research confirms that racial inter-marriages are indeed more common among Filipino women than black women. In one study, 28% of Filipino women, versus 9% of Filipino men, were found in an interracial union in 2006. For blacks, the gender differential was reversed: 20% of black women, versus 30% of black men, were involved in an inter-racial union (Milan, Maheu, and Chui 2010). In another recent study, Hamplova and LeBourdais (2010) found the proportion of black men in Toronto and Montreal in mixed unions was higher than black women by an average of 10%. Altogether, these findings indicate that the odds that black women in Canada will find romantic partners are much lower in comparison with black men. It is also safe to presume that immigration policy, an ongoing sex ratio imbalance, and inter-racial mating patterns have all played some role in creating more black lone-parent families.


The methodology for this study is descriptive and exploratory. The primary research questions are the following: What is the composition and character of black families with children in Canada in 2006? Flow have conditions for these families changed or evolved since 1986? How do the economic circumstances of black families with children compare with other Canadian families in the present-day? To address these questions, a series of cross-tabulations was generated, starting with basic background information on black Canadians, namely nativity, immigration, and sex ratios. Then, a set of comparative tables was produced on black families in 1986 and 2006. These tables explore the marital status, household type, household income, and educational attainment of blacks and the general population of Canadians in the two years under study. In a departure from Christensen and Weinfeld (1993), the present paper includes a new table on educational attainment in 1986 and 2006. The aim is to provide some additional background information on blacks in Canada and explore the role that social class might play in explaining racial differences in family formation.

The tables and variables for 2006 have been reproduced in the exact form in which they were displayed in Christensen and Weinfeld (1993). The data on marital status and sex ratios have been calculated for adults aged 25-44 years, because it is the cohort most likely to be active in marriage and childbearing. The tables on family structure and household income have been generated for households with children who are 0-14 years of age, in order to focus on families with dependent children. This sample includes families with same-sex couples, although the percentage among black families remains fairly low (Torczyner 2010). All of the tables for 2006 incorporate the sampling weights from Statistics Canada.

The 2006 data are taken from the individuals' file of the census "Public Use Micro-Data File" (PUMF), which comprises a representative sample of Canadians, approximately 2.7% of the population. Data for "blacks" as a group are derived from information on the "visible minority" origins of Canadians. For the first time in 1996, the census began asking respondents to indicate to which "visible minority" group they belonged. In 2006, 2.5% of the Canadian population, or approximately 780,000 people, identified themselves as "Black." Blacks constituted the third largest group of visible minorities after the Chinese (3.9%) and South Asians (4.0%). It is possible that some portion of the changes from 1986 to 2006 is due to differing definitions of "black" used as sources for the data; in 1986 the category was "black ethnic origin."


Place of Birth and Immigration

One of the most remarkable characteristics of the black population in Canada is its internal diversity, which only continues to grow with respect to birthplace, nationality, language, and generation status. As Table 1 shows, 44 percent of blacks in 2006 were native-born, and this percentage fluctuates slightly across the provinces. Roughly a third of blacks were born in the Caribbean, while another 20% were born in Africa. Only in the Maritimes do we find a majority of blacks who are third generation or more. Everywhere else the population is made up largely of first- and second-generation immigrants. The proportion of second-generation black Canadians has increased measurably since 1986 and stood at 20.6% in 2006. Overall, Table 2 shows that Ontario and Quebec are home to the highest numbers of blacks in Canada.

In the years following the liberalization of Canadian immigration policies in the 1960s, Caribbeans constituted the leading group of black immigrants. Starting in 2000, Africans would overtake Caribbeans, as shown in Figure 1. Caribbeans comprised the largest group of black immigrants from the period of the 1950s up to the year 2000. Between 2000 and 2006, 63% of black immigrants were African.

Sex Ratio

The sex ratio imbalance for blacks between the ages of 25-44 years in 2006 remains as large as it was in 1986: in both periods, it was equal to 86.8 males for every 100 females (see Table 3). When the data are disaggregated by place of origin, the sex ratio imbalance becomes even sharper for Caribbean-born blacks: among those aged 18 years and over in 2006, there were 77.6 Caribbean-born men for every 100 Caribbean-born women (see Table 4). This imbalance bears a direct relationship to historical and contemporary immigrant flows. Although the data are not shown here, the census data indicate that during the most recent period from 2000 to 2006, 55% of all Caribbean immigrants were women. Unlike Caribbean immigrants, there is no sex ratio imbalance for African-born blacks.

Marital Status

Findings from the 2006 census point to a substantial decline since 1986 in the proportion of black men and women aged 25-44 years who are married or in common-law unions. The drop has been especially large for native-born blacks, who are now more likely to be "never married" than either married or common-law. As shown in Table 5, the proportion of native-born black men who are married or common-law declined from 62.8% in 1986 to 37.6% in 2006, a drop of 40.1%. For native-born black women, the level has gone from 50.7% to 35.0%, a 31% decline. The figures for 2006 are comparable to results from the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) (LeBrun and LeVeist 2013). In a pooled analysis of CCSH data covering the period from 2003 to 2008, LeBrun and LeVeist (2013) observed that 23.7% of all native-born blacks aged 18 years and over were married, compared with 63.6% of white Canadians. In addition, 68.3% of blacks in the sample were single and never married, versus 23.3% of whites. The results of that study also indicate that native-born black adults tend to be much younger than average; roughly 87% are between 18 and 44 years of age, compared with 49% in the native white population. This large age gap between native blacks and whites is likely one factor among others that explains the disparities in rates of marriage and common-law unions.

The marital status of foreign-born blacks has also changed, though to a lesser degree. In 1986, 71.2% of foreign-born black men were married; by 2006, this percentage had fallen to 56.3%, a decline of 21%. For foreign-born black women, the proportion of married and common-law unions had decreased from 58.2% in 1986 to 48.5% in 2006, a drop of 16.7%. It should be noted that these figures comprise averages, which conceal important age variations. Once black men and women reach beyond 30 years of age, the odds of marriage and co-habiting unions rise substantially. At 40-44 years of age in 2006, 54.4% of native-born and 58% of foreign-born blacks were married or in common-law unions (data not shown).

The changing shape of conjugal relations in the black population is to some extent a reflection of broader Canadian trends. Over the course of the last few decades, Canadians have been marrying less often or postponing marriage until later in life. Despite some fluctuations, the rate of divorce in Canada since the 1970s has remained high by historic standards (Kerr, Moyser, and Beaujot 2006). Many young adults are also opting for co-habitation or common-law relationships as a substitute for or a prelude to marriage, especially in Quebec. From 1986 to 2006, the percentage of all Canadian men who were married or in common-law relationships fell from 72.9% to 64.9% in 2006, a drop of 11%. For women, the decrease went from 75.5% in 1986 to 69.3% in 2006, a change of 8%. Despite these broadly similar trends, the decrease in marriage and common-law unions remains higher among blacks, especially the native-born.

Due to the lack of available research, it is difficult to speculate on what might be causing this accelerated decline in marriage and common-law unions among native-born blacks. As already indicated, age might be a factor, as native-born blacks in Canada are relatively young compared to the norm. In analyses not shown here, it was found that the pattern is concentrated among blacks of the second generation, who represent 73.9% of all native-born blacks aged 25-44 years. Within the second generation, 62.7% of black men and women aged 25-44 years in 2006 were "never married," compared with 42.6% of black men and women belonging to the third-plus generation. Given that the black second-generation in Canada has achieved close to economic parity with whites, it would be hard to claim that the fall in marriage and common-law unions reflects a process of downward mobility in social class or a process of "segmented assimilation," as articulated in the US literature (Boyd 2002).

Findings in Table 5 further illustrate that the number of blacks who are divorced or separated has increased since 1986, especially among foreign-born black women. In 1986, 8.2% of foreign-born black women were divorced and 6.9% were separated; by 2006, these figures had risen to 9.3% and 10.4%, respectively. For foreign-born black men, the situation has remained rather stable: from 1986 to 2006, the percentage of foreign-born black men who were divorced or separated went from 9.5% to 9.1%. Unlike black women, Canadian women in general have experienced a slight decline in rates of divorce and separation, from 4.5% in 1986 to 3.7% in 2006.

Household Type

The findings on family structure in Table 6 indicate that more black children are growing up in lone-parent families today than in 1986. The increase has been especially large for native-born black children, who constitute the majority of black children. Also of interest is the increase in foreign-born children who are living with a lone parent. It must be kept in mind that these figures do not convey the actual percentage of black lone parents, but rather the percentage of black children living in a lone parent home. In 2006, 26.6% of black parents with children 0-14 years of age were lone parents, versus 10% of all parents (data not shown).

In 1986, 30.2% of native-born black children resided in a lone-parent household; in 2006, this figure was 42.5%, an increase of 41%. For foreign-born black children, the percentage has gone from 25.9% in 1986 to 32.1% in 2006, an increase of 24%. Correspondingly, the proportion of black children living in two-parent families fell more sharply for the native-born. From 1986 to 2006, the percentage of native-born black children living with two parents fell from 64% to 51.2%. For foreign-born black children, the drop has been much narrower, from 68.1% to 64.2%.

The findings further show that single-parent families have become more common for all Canadian children. In 1986, 11.3% of all Canadian children were living with a lone parent. By 2006, this had risen to 16.6%, a 47% increase. Furthermore, the proportion of children residing with two parents fell from 83.9% to 78.1%.

Before-Tax Household Income

Table 7 displays the before-tax household income of two-parent and lone-parent families with children aged 0-14 years. Based on figures from Statistics Canada (2013), the dollar amounts for 2006 have been adjusted to account for inflation since 1986. The equivalent of one hundred dollars in 1986 was $167.43 in 2006. In other words, an income of $20,000 in 1986 was approximately equal to $33,480 in 2006. The income categories for 1986 and 2006 remain rough approximations, because the census does not permit calculations of actual incomes, only averages. For example, the closest amount to $33,480 (the equivalent of $20,000 in 1986) is a code for $30,000-34,999. Given these limitations, the findings should be taken as an illustration of broad patterns and fluctuations in income inequality over time, rather than precise measures of income and poverty.

As a whole, the results show that the economic situation of black families with children has worsened since 1986, while the situation has improved for other Canadian families with children. A slightly higher proportion of black children were living in a low-income household in 2006 than in 1986 (35.3% versus 33.3%). In contrast, the proportion of all Canadian children residing in a low-income household fell over the same period, from 22.4% in 1986 to 18.6% in 2006. In both periods, the most significant factor associated with racial disparities in the household income of families with young children is family structure. In 2006, however, significant racial gaps in income remain even when family structure is taken into account.

As indicated earlier, black children in 1986 were marginally more likely than other Canadian children to be living in a low-income household when family structure was held constant. The percentage of black children in a two-parent family earning less than $20,000 in 1986 was 17.9%, compared with 16% of all children in a two-parent family. In 2006, the proportion of black children from two-parent families living in low-income households remained unchanged (17.8%); in contrast, fewer children from two-parent families in the general population were found in low-income households in 2006 (11.6%). A similar process of increasing inequality has occurred among lone-parent families. In 1986, 70.2% of black children in single-parent families, and 67.7% of all Canadian children in single-parent families, were found in households earning less than $20,000. In 2006, the percentage would fall to 56.4% for black children and 49.5% for all children in the country. This represents a decline of 19.7% in the proportion of black children lone-parent families, versus a decline of 26.8% for other children in the same group. Evidently, economic prospects have improved for all children in lone-parent families, though to a lesser degree for black children. Two trends can be discerned from these findings: on the one hand, black families have made some appreciable economic gains since 1986; at the same time, they have fallen further behind other Canadian families, whether they are lone-parent or two-parent families.

The data confirm that the incidence of low-income households was comparatively higher for black children in 2006, and this is true whether they belonged to a lone-parent or two-parent family. While controlling for family structure diminishes the size of racial income inequalities, it does not eliminate them. To fully account for this rising inequality between black families and other Canadian families in 2006, we need to turn to alternative explanations. Potential causal factors to consider would be racial discrimination in the labor market and barriers to immigrant integration (Mensah 2010).

Educational Attainment

The final comparative table (Table 8) displays the educational attainment of blacks and other Canadians in 1986 and 2006. On the whole, educational levels have increased for all Canadians since 1986, including blacks. On this score, blacks have clearly not lost ground relative to other Canadians. One finding is worthy of note. Black women, like all Canadian women, report higher levels of university completion than males of the same group. In 2006, 29.7% of native-born black women, versus 20.5% of native-born black men, had acquired a Bachelor's degree or higher. The same gender gap exists in the general Canadian population, although it is somewhat narrower. In 2006, 29.4% of all women and 24.9% of all men had obtained a Bachelor's degree or higher.

These findings corroborate what other researchers have found using earlier versions of the census. In one study, Simmons and Plaza (1998) observed that native-born black women aged 20-24 years in Toronto had rates of university completion in 1991 that were much higher than native-born black men as well as foreign-born black women.

In 1986, the pattern was for black men to have higher levels of education than black women, whether they were foreign- or native-born. Today, foreign-born black women are nearly as likely as foreign-born black men to have a Bachelor's degree or higher. Native-born black women have now surpassed their black male peers. These findings are consistent with patterns in the US, which previous authors have claimed inhibit the formation of black heterosexual unions (Clarke 2011). For all couples, marital homogamy tends to be the norm, and blacks are no exception (Schoen and Weinick 1993). It would be worth exploring in future research whether gender differentials in education between native-born black men and women in Canada may have (or will) become an impediment to marriage and co-habitation for educated black women. This is in addition to the difficulties that black men and women with low education and income often experience in forming and sustaining families (Henry 1994).


The major conclusion of the present exploratory study is that since 1986, the socioeconomic status of most black families with children has deteriorated relative to others. Undeniably, black families in Canada face a more challenging set of social and economic circumstances than other families, and these factors can only undermine their welfare and stability. In 2006, significantly fewer blacks than other Canadians aged 25-44 years were married or in a common-law union, more black women than men were divorced or separated, and larger proportions of native-born blacks remained single and never married. The economic gap between black households with children and other Canadian households with children grew from 1986 to 2006, even when family structure is controlled. Many factors that militate against the formation and stability of unions may be at work: labour market inequalities; the pressures of racism; poverty and economic insecurity; immigrant stresses that lead to marital dissolution; the unequal sex ratio and inter-racial marriage patterns. Consequently, more black children find themselves in lone-parent families, which, when combined with poverty, can create challenges for these children as they grow up. The diminishing prospects of recent immigrants in Canada may partly account for this lag in the income of black families. Picot and Hou (2003) found that low-income rates have been steadily rising for recent immigrants since the 1970s, even for the most highly educated from regions such as Asia and Africa. The authors also note that while poverty rates have dropped for the native-born, they have increased for immigrants.

The one variable on which blacks fare similarly with other Canadians is education. The question remains why education, as a proxy for social class, does not protect blacks from economic poverty or enhance their chances of forming marital or non-marital unions. The present study has highlighted a gender gap in education between native-born black women and men. As indicated, marital homogamy might pose one obstacle to the formation of black heterosexual unions.

The sex ratio for blacks reveals an excess of black women, caused largely by immigration policy. This fact, combined with the greater racial exogamy of black men, reduces the odds of marriage for black women. If these trends continue, the proportions of unmarried blacks and lone-parent black women will continue to be above average.

The racial disparities in marriage and family structure found in the present study bear some similarities with the US. In the US we know that blacks are among the groups most affected by social and economic barriers. An interesting question to consider is whether families in Canada and the US are subject to processes of racial stratification and racism that are broadly similar. This issue is undoubtedly complex given the obvious differences noted earlier between blacks in the US and Canada; nevertheless, the significant racial disparities in family formation in the two countries raise the possibility that some combinations of factors may be the same, namely between race, class, and gender.

Contextual factors unique to Canada also play an important role in explaining the conditions of black families in 2006, as indicated by the age structure of the black population, the sex ratio imbalance among the Caribbean-born, the employment barriers facing recent immigrants, and the relation between gender, racial exogamy, and union formation. Further detailed comparisons between immigrant and native black families and between black families and other racial minority and immigrant families in Canada would be pertinent and instructive.

Future research on black families should explore the short- and long-term consequences of lone-parent families and poverty for parents and their children. Another issue worth exploring is the within-group variability between black families, taking into account factors like education, generation status, birthplace, immigration history, gender, language, and geographic location. As shown earlier, the black population is currently more diverse than ever, with a now sizable proportion of African immigrants, a still large number of Caribbean-born immigrants, and a growing percentage of native-born blacks, especially of the second generation.

Finally, policies that seek to reduce sex ratio imbalances driven by immigration, eliminate income gaps for black men and women in the labor force, expand services for single parents and low-income families to meet their basic needs, and enable immigrants to find jobs commensurate with their skills and education would go some way to ensuring more favorable conditions for black families and their children.


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We are grateful to Dr. Andrew Cherlin, Benjamin H. Griswold III Professor of Public Policy, Johns Hopkins University, for his vital feedback on the analysis for this paper. We also wish to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback on the paper.

ANNE-MARIE LIVINGSTONE is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Prior to entering the PhD program, she was the Evaluation Coordinator for the Community Learning Centres of the Quebec Ministry of Education, Sports, and Leisure. Her research focuses on issues of race and ethnicity, poverty and inequality, and public policy.

MORTON WEINFELD is Professor of Sociology at McGill University, where he holds the Chair in Canadian Ethnic Studies. He is the author of Like everyone else but different: The paradoxical success of Canadian Jews (McClelland and Stewart, 2001) and co-edited, with Harold Troper, Ethnicity, Politics, and Public Policy: Case Studies in Canadian Diversity (University of Toronto Press, 1999). His article "Canadian Jews, Dual Loyalty, and the Tebbit "Cricket Test," appeared in Canadian Ethnic Studies in vol. 43-44, 3-1, 2011-2012.

TABLE 1. Place of birth of blacks, 2006

Place of birth     %      Total

Canada            44.3   343,606
Caribbean         30.5   237,098
Africa            19.7   153,195
Latin America      2.1    16,537
Other              3.4    25,785

Total            100%    776,221

TABLE 2. Nativity and immigrant status of blacks by province, 2006

Province/region     Native-born   Foreign-born   Total      N

Maritimes              86.3           13.7       100%     24,638
Quebec                 40.0           60.0       100%    189,264
Ontario                44.0           56.0       100%    470,682
Prairie provinces      41.2           58.8       100%     65,443
British Columbia       48.6           51.4       100%     28,079
NWT                    25.0           75.0       100%        444

Total                  44.3           55.7       100%    778,551

TABLE 3. Sex ratio of Canadians by age


                       visible      All
Age group     Blacks   minorities   Canadians

0-14          103.0    105.1        104.9
15-24          86.9    100.1        102.2
25-44          86.8     95.6         98.8
45 and over    76.0     89.3         88.0


                       visible      All
Age group     Blacks   minorities   Canadians

0-14          106.6    105.1        105.3
15-24         103.3    103.7        103.7
25-44          86.8     89.0         95.7
45 and over    84.8     90.5         90.8

TABLE 4. Sex ratio of blacks by place of birth (all adults 18 years
of age and over), 2006

Place of birth   Male/Female   N

Canada            96.5         127,076
Caribbean         77.6         224,335
Africa           100.4         128,001
Latin America     80.2          15,723
Other            105.8          18,941

Total             88.7         514,076

TABLE 5. Marital status of adults aged 25-44 years, by gender and
place of birth


             Black         Black
             native-born   foreign-born   All Canadian

Sex          M      F      M       F      M       F

Divorced      4.7    7.0    4.2     8.2    3.4     5.4

Married or   62.8   50.7   71.2    58.2   72.9    75.5

Separated     5.7    7.9    5.0     6.9    3.0     4.1

Never        26.7   34.3   19.5    25.9   20.5    14.2

Widowed       0.0    0.1    0.1     0.1    0.8     0.2

Total        100%   100%   100%    100%   100%    100%


             Black         Black
             native-born   foreign-born   All Canadian

Sex          M      F      M       F      M       F

Divorced      1.2    3.9    4.4     9.3    2.9     4.5

Married or   37.6   35.0   56.3    48.5   64.9    69.3

Separated     2.1    4.8    4.7    10.4    2.3     3.7

Never        59.1   56.1   34.4    30.5   29.8    22.1

Widowed       0.0    0.2    0.2     1.3    0.1     0.5

Total        100%   100%   100%    100%   100%    100%

TABLE 6. Household type of children aged 0-14 years, by place of


              Black         Black          All
              native-born   foreign-born   Canadian

Two-parent    64.0          68.1           83.9
Lone-parent   30.2          25.9           11.3
Other         16.0          17.7           10.5

Total         100%          100%           100%


              Black         Black          All
              native-born   foreign-born   Canadian

Two-parent    51.2          64.2           78.1
Lone-parent   42.5          32.1           16.6
Other          6.3           3.7            5.3

Total         100%          100%           100%

TABLE 7. Before-tax income of the households of children 0-14 years
of age

                    Black        Black         All black
                    two-parent   lone-parent   children


Less than $19,999   17.9         70.2          33.3
$20-39,999          41.6         24.2          35.1
$40-74,999          36.0          5.4          27.9
$75,000 and over     4.4          0.2           3.6

Total               100%         100%          100%


Less than $34,999   17.8         56.4          35.3
$35-64,999          35.7         29.3          32.8
$65-124,999         36.6         11.7          25.3
$125,000 and over   10.0          2.7           6.7

Total               100%         100%          100%

                    All Canadian   All Canadian   All Canadian
                    two-parent     lone-parent    children


Less than $19,999   16.0           67.7           22.4
$20-39,999          41.3           24.4           38.3
$40-74,999          36.9            7.0           33.5
$75,000 and over     5.9            0.9            5.8

Total               100%           100%           100%


Less than $34,999   11.6           49.5           18.6
$35-64,999          27.8           31.1           28.4
$65-124,999         43.1           16.0           38.0
$125,000 and over   17.6            3.4           15.0

Total               100%           100%           100%

TABLE 8. Educational attainment of adults 25-44 years of age


             Black           Black
             native-born     foreign-born    All Canadian

Sex          M       F       M       F       M       F

No high      44.7    35.8    31.6    31.8    32.9    34.1

High         19.5    27.4    17.4    19.0    20.0    24.7

College or   21.6    26.8    35.1    41.0    30.0    28.1

Bachelor's   14.2    10.0    16.0     8.2    17.0    13.2
or higher

Total        100%    100%    100%    100%    100%    100%


             Black           Black
             native-born     foreign-born    All Canadian

Sex          M       F       M       F       M       F

No high      14.3     6.5    10.6    10.8    12.7     9.4

High         39.3    29.6    40.5    35.4    38.1    30.7

College or   26.0    34.1    27.6    34.5    24.2    30.6

Bachelor's   20.5    29.7    21.4    19.3    24.9    29.4
or higher

Total        100%    100%    100%    100%    100%    100%
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