Note this post is slightly more meandering and personal than previous posts in this series, but it does dig into data as well.
In a society that is increasingly socially isolated and tribal in nature, the family unit remains a constant. For our region, the changing nature of the family unit may be creating additional challenges for parents and children to finding success in our community. I preface all of the following by stating that I am speaking in aggregate in regards to our city, region and family dynamics. Of course many children that do not come from “traditional nuclear family” circumstances are loved, supported and successful; many newly separated/divorced individuals use this life changing event to pivot to a new and exciting life stage; and formal partnerships very often end amicably and in a supportive manner. That being said, there is a body of research that points to the challenges faced by non-traditional family structures and the impacts of separation/divorce of parents. When looking at our region we find that the makeup of families are changing.
Divorce/Separation in Windsor Essex
Despite Statistics Canada deciding not to track divorce rates annually, the 2016 Census gives us a snapshot of family situations in Windsor and Essex County. Unfortunately our region features higher than average divorce and separation rates compared to the province.
For comparative purposes, in 2001, Ontario had a divorce and separation rate of 6.5% and 3.3% (9.8% combined) respectively, while Essex County was at 9.5% (6.8% and 2.7%). As you can see from the table above, in 2016 Provincial rates have dropped 1.1% to 8.7%, while Essex County remained flat. Within the City of Windsor rates of divorce/separation and have bucked the provincial trend and risen from 10.9% (7.8% and 3.1% respectively) in 2001, to 11.4%.
The exact impact of this rise in separation/divorce rates is not entirely clear. Research out the US following the great recession showed that divorce/separation rates declined through the economic downturn. The reasons for this dip during the recession are not entirely clear as traditionally financial stresses are considered a leading cause of separation and divorce. Part of the assumed reasoning is that when the economy struggles on a macro level, breaking of the family unit becomes too costly a venture for many in uncertain economic times, and in turn they remain in a relationship assuming no explicate dangers being present. Whether this leads to long term stability in the relationship is another question, as divorce rates in the US have returned to pre-recession levels.
Another factor is the nature of our economy. Windsor is in many ways still a shift work town. Of the 166,070 individuals who workout side their homes, 21% travel to work between noon and 5am (afternoons and midnight shifts) in Essex County, the compares to provincial average 15.9%. The connects between shift work and separation/divorce are also well established with one study finding a 6X divorce rate between families who have one or more member work shift work compared to those who do not. The nature of shift work can bring additional stress as well as mental illness to the workers and household.
Within these separation, divorce and other marital status statistics, there are a number of unique outliers that deserve some attention. For example of 32,030 individuals who identified as separated or divorced, 57% or 18,525 identified as women, with this rate slightly higher in the City of Windsor. Whether males who separate/divorce are quicker to re-enter a long term relationships, or they leave the community (this is somewhat disputed as females have higher mobility rates at both 1 and 5 year intervals) is unknown. The impact of these factors partially contribute to the slightly higher rates of lone parents families in our region compared to the province, of which 80% are led by women.
For men, there is actually an “excess”, for the lack of a better term, who are outside of a relationship and have never been married. In Essex County there are over 50,000 males over the age of 15 who are single and never married compared to 42,000 females. As a there are currently over 1,000 females then males between the age of 15-64 and that women live longer than men locally, there are over 12,000 more widowed females than males in Essex County (16,000 vs 4,000) it potentially creates a front loaded skew in the relationship demographics of our region.
When I was 18, I couldn’t wait to leave home, and escape the oppressive yoke of my parents tyrannical rule. I don’t say this to make a comment about how things were better “back in my day” but rather to frame another family trend in our region. Young people aren’t leaving home.
The above chart shows nationally trends in living arrangements for young people over the first 4 censuses of the 21st century. The trend that emerges is that far fewer youth are living with a partner or child away while more and more young people are living with parents or some other non-attached living arrangement. Locally in Windsor-Essex we find our community has the 4th highest rate (behind, Toronto, Oshawa and Hamilton) of 20-34 year old living at the parents, with 43% of them living with parents which is something that I feel needs to be unpacked.
Unlike Toronto, Oshawa and Hamilton our region is relatively affordable yet young people are staying with their parents in our region just as long as these more expensive jurisdictions. Where I think the fault lies is on the wage side of our community. The decline in incomes in our region between 2006 and 2016 Censuses certainly played a role, but so has the transitioning of our economy. A couple of decades ago you could walk onto an assembly line with a high school diploma and be making a wage that lets you buy a home in a few years. Now that same education traps you in a cycle of minimum wage employment. This is supported by US polling research that showed that lower education millennial were living at home longer than previous generations
The further specialization of our economy has resulted in certain degrees and diplomas not ensuring employment anymore. I myself consider myself lucky to the employed in this community, as I have built a niche both inside and outside of work; but there are very few employers looking for a raw graduation from the political science field. How many musicians or drama majors, teachers, lawyers, marketing specialists, social workers are produced locally, and how many jobs in those fields are available annually?
This stay at home narrative connects to the original marriage conversation, particularly when you bring education into the mix. This latency in living at home, delays many young people from starting or committing to relationships. As costs of education rise, the incentive to remain at home in a low/no cost housing increases.
As I would characterize Windsor’s post-secondary institutions are more commuter institutions for local students, the incentive to stay at home is high. This stay at home nature leads to some debate around the maturity of young people today and their need for adulting classes to “get by in the real world”. Setting those aside, education certainly plays a role on when people get married, and despite the overall age of marriage is increasing. Our local economy is not tooled in a manner that will employ young adults in a way that they can financially support themselves. In Canada, young people are not worse off then previous generations from a gross well standpoint, but they are more heavily indebted and that constrains quality of life as their income to debt ratios have passed over 200% on average. No surprise that they are putting off getting married.
Part of the reason why I chose to write on this topic was it was something that I am currently experiencing and coping with. Being my nature, I wanted number and data to help me cope. I found that I was an outlier, getting married when I did, and now that it has come crashing down, I find that in this community, its more common than I realized. I was privilaged enough to grow up in a family that didn’t experience a divorce directly or even in my core group of friends growing up. The impact of separation and divorce are real for people and families in our community, and it is a more common than average phenomena. Financially by splitting both parties are taking significant risk and are likely constraining their short and medium term financial security, then there are the emotional and mental health impacts. As provincial rates of separation and divorce have dropped, our rates have stagnated or even risen in certain communities, this mean more missed days at work and lower productivity, damaged mental health,
people saving less for the future or retirement and less income circulating in the economy. The breakdown of a marriage can be a scaring process, without even looking at the potential impacts on children.
Through my separation from my partner, which has been thankfully been amicable; I’ve been depressed; faced financial/emotional stress; had panic attacks; probably had a few evenings where I drank too much; been working too much to distract myself; broken down and cried; and decided to punish my body by signing up for a half marathon and dragging myself out of bed at 5:31am to start training.
That being said, I knew of and sought out help, I go to a counselor to talk through things and get support. I also have a great network of friends and family, both locally and further afield who I could turn to. Financially I am in a position that many in our community aren’t in. Not everyone is a fortunate as I am, and I am thankful for that. Is everything fixed as I write this, of course not, this is part of a process but the consequences for myself and many others in our region are very real.