Shona Brandt a stay-at-home mother living in Durham, did not have a typical marriage ceremony. It was practical, she says, a small intimate gathering by the lakeside in Newfoundland during the evening.
“We didn’t spend a lot of money like most people do,” Brandt says. “It was very small for us. We had only 10 or 20 people there and it was more focused on us instead of throwing a big party for everyone.”
Brandt has now been married for seven years and has two daughters. She says marriage for her has meant meeting someone special, and having a family is part of that.
“For me, I know for a lot of people it doesn’t matter so much,” Brandt says, noting traditional marriages and families such as hers are becoming rarer with each passing decade.
While married couples remain the most prevalent type of family in Canada, it is a group that is in decline. An increasing number of Canadian families are smaller and comprised of common-law relationships, single-parent families, or those living alone, according to the 2011 Canadian Census.
Information collected by Statistics Canada shows there is now more people living alone than couples with children. People living alone account for 27.6 per cent of the population, an amount that has tripled since 1961.
The number of common-law couples also rose by 14 per cent from 2006 to 2011. Parents with children meanwhile make up almost 40 per cent of families, and a rising proportion of those parents are not officially married.
“It’s not as valued as it used to be like when my mother and father (married),” says Alysia Robinson, a student in the Criminology program at UOIT.
Noah Murphy, a student in the Business Commerce program at UOIT, says that while he doesn’t believe marriage will ever become obsolete, he agrees it has changed significantly over the last few decades.
“It’s kind of upsetting, because it used to stand for something. Now a lot of people just see it as something that lasts for ten years,” he says. “I think it will always mean something to some people, but definitely for a lot of people it’s not as important anymore.”
John Kovac, a marriage and family therapist in Whitby says the reason marriages have become less prevalent in society is because couples no longer need or want to depend on each other as they once did, something he feels is required for marriage to work. Instead, Kovac believes people have become more self-centred and less trusting of each other.
“I find that in today’s marriages, everyone has their own account, where they store their money. They have a mutual account which they pay the bills from, but the rest is ‘my money’ and that has led to focusing on ‘me and my rights and my choices’ becoming quite strong in society,” Kovac says.
Dave Larmour, lead pastor of the King Street Church in Oshawa, says the increase in pre-marital sexual activity in modern culture is one of the main causes of the decline. A few decades ago, Larmour says it was common for people not to engage in sexual activity before entering into a marriage. Today, however, he feels people are far more willing to have sex outside of marriage, thus limiting the need for marriage.
Another reason behind marriage’s decreased status, according to Larmour, is because the federal government created a “common-law set of guiding principles,” that act the same as marriage.
“After they’ve been living together for a period of time, the government treats them with all the legal protective boundaries as a married couple,” Larmour says.
Kovac says marriage is still important because of the many benefits it offers. In his experience, when people enter into a traditional marriage, they are healthier, live longer, have higher satisfaction, and experience more joy, safety, and friendships.
“They’re more adventurous, if one gets sick the other one will jump in and help out in difficult times. When people are dying they support each other,” he says.
Larmour believes humans being able to say ‘I will be there’, and making the decision to be there for one another, and having the assurance that they won’t “trade each other for another model” is an important environment for raising children.
This, he says, comes from the biblical idea of covenant, where there’s a legal contract, but also that God is involved in the process and the union is more binding in nature.
“Covenant means ‘agreement’, where people are making an advanced agreement to say ‘I will be there for you in sickness and in health, wealth, poverty, difficulty or bright sky. I’m in this thing for the long run and you can count on me to be there,” he says.
Larmour sees these types of spiritual assurances are something other types of families or marriages cannot provide quite as well.
For instance, in common law marriages, he says the vows exchanged between participants are only as strong as their own happiness and willingness to be together.
“There’s very little security in that,” he says. “And I think in our culture that has rapid change, I think we could use more security.”
Despite the data, Larmour doesn’t believe marriage and the security it provides are going anyway anytime soon. “It’s imprinted on the human soul,” he says. “We crave that type of human relationship where there’s a giving and receiving of love that’s sacrificial and not just convenient or premised in happiness.”
Whether marriage becomes obsolete or not, if the trend continues, those lakeside weddings in the evening will become even less typical in the coming years.