Plummeting marriage rates in Quebec

In my previous post I mentioned that marriage rates are very low here in Quebec. I just came across this surprising statistic: In a recent study of 354 women giving birth here at the hospital in Sherbrooke, only 28 (8%) were married! (The 95% confidence interval is 5% to 11%, so random sampling does not explain the low rate. It’s less clear how well it could be generalized to Quebec as a whole – the sample is likely not perfectly representative, though it’s hard to know if marriage rates are higher or lower than would be expected generally.)

Statistics for current marriage rates are tricky: do we include people in their 60s who married when cultural norms were different? Do we look only at new marriages, and risk failing to capture people who are just delaying marriage but will eventually marry?

In this sense, the 8% statistic is particularly telling because it shows just how few people here consider marriage a prerequisite for a family. In the US, about 59% of births occur to married parents, or 7.5 times more than here in Quebec. The dramatic shift away from marriage here becomes even more clear considering that there are fewer single (i.e. unpartnered) mothers in Quebec than in the US (I’m making an educated guess here due to more poverty in the US). The vast majority of people looking to start a family here see marriage as irrelevant.

Ironically, of all the places I’ve lived, Quebec has the strongest family values. All of society is structured to give parents lots of time with their kids and to help them raise kids. This can be formal and legal: For example, public day care costs $7 per day, everyone gets lots of vacation time, and education savings plans are fantastic. More importantly, it’s also cultural. I’ve seen many instances of employers encouraging employees to take time off to be with their families under circumstances where that would be rare in other countries, and there are certain times of the week where no one participates in organized activities (e.g. sports) because everyone is with their families. My challenge to conservatives in America is thus to explain how Quebec can have such strong family values if marriage is essential for family values…