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Gay couples still rare despite jump in census count

The 2011 census counted 6,425 same-sex couples in Metro Vancouver – 1.2 per cent of all Metro couples – a jump of more than 2,200 from 2006. -
The 2011 census counted 6,425 same-sex couples in Metro Vancouver – 1.2 per cent of all Metro couples – a jump of more than 2,200 from 2006.
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Experts say a jump in same-sex couples counted in Metro Vancouver in the latest census likely reflects society's growing acceptance of gay marriage since Canada legalized it in 2005.

The 2011 census counted 6,425 same-sex couples in Metro Vancouver – 1.2 per cent of all Metro couples – a jump of more than 2,200 from 2006.

Urban Futures demographer Ryan Berlin suggested gay couples are now more likely to disclose their relationship than they were in 2006.

"In the seven years since [gay marriage was legalized] there's a lot more acceptance and understanding," he said. "People are more comfortable indicating on their census form that they're living in these same-sex relationships."

He said the numbers still show same-sex couples are rare – just one per cent of B.C. relationships – and rarer still in the Abbotsford area at 0.5 per cent.

"It's probably reflective of more traditional values and approaches to relationships there," he said.

Nationally, the figures released by Statistics Canada suggest traditional marriage is on the wane, while singles, common-law unions and other household types grow in comparison.

But Berlin said traditional marriage still remains relatively strong in the Lower Mainland, accounting for about 88 per cent of Metro Vancouverites in relationships (89 per cent in Abbotsford and area), with the rest living common law.

Another phenomenon running strong in Metro Vancouver is the boomerang kid – 20-somethings who either don't move out of their parents' home or come back later.

Nearly 47 per cent of Metro young adults in their 20s still live at home, compared to 42 per cent nationally.

Berlin said that's likely due to the concentration of universities and colleges in the region, as well as the high cost of housing.

"The desire to skip that rental stage of the life cycle and move straight into home ownership could be another reason," he said.

SFU sociology professor Barbara Mitchell agreed but said other factors are also at play.

"Young people are living in a very different economic and social world," she said, adding the transition to conventional adulthood is delayed for many.

"In the past it was a little more predictable," Mitchell said. "You left the house, you got your car, you got married and had kids.

"Now young people are going to school longer because labour markets are so competitive they need to."

The census results also showed slightly more children in the Abbotsford region live with two parents (26 per cent) than in Metro Vancouver (24 per cent.) – another factor Berlin said points to slightly more traditional families in the Fraser Valley.

Mitchell said cultural differences may be behind the significant share of households where multiple families share the same roof – 7.6 per cent in Surrey and 6.1 per cent in Abbotsford.

Intergenerational families – common where there are large South Asian populations – are also on the risem she noted.

Step-families made up 8.4 per cent of couples with children in Metro Vancouver, the first time that family type was counted.

The overall portrait of families and households, Mitchell said, is one of growing diversification and public acceptance of different lifestyles and family types.

"On the other hand, it seems to me the family is still alive and well," she added. "People are still forming partnerships. Married couples are still the predominant family structure."

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