Lone Parent Rate

Sex and Gender-based Analysis of this topic


The lone-parent rate refers to the percentage of all families living in private households that are headed by lone-parents [1]. A lone-parent is a man or woman who is single, separated, divorced, or widowed who cares for one or more children with no assistance from a spouse or common-law partner in the home. Lone-mothers make up 13% of Canadian families, while lone-fathers make up 3% [2]. In British Columbia, 80% of lone-parents are female [3].

Sex Issues

Lone-parent status, particularly lone-mother status, increases risk for stressful events such as lack of financial and social support, a separation or divorce and moving locations, all of which can negatively affect physical and mental health [4]. A 1996/1997 study found that lone mothers had lower self-rated health than women in male-female couples [5]. Statistics Canada found that working lone mothers have the highest levels of time-stress compared to all other demographic groups [6]. Compared to the general population, lone mothers have higher rates of chronic illness, disability days, activity restrictions, and are three times more likely to visit health care professionals about their mental and emotional health [6].

Gender Issues

There are significantly more female lone parents compared to male lone-parents in Canada [2]. In addition, female lone parents are one of the most impoverished family groups in Canada: 32% of lone-mothers were considered to be low income, compared to 8% in two-parent families and 10% in all other family types [7]. Lone-mothers earn less than lone-fathers. For example, in 2006, male lone-parent families earned an average of $54,500 compared to only $37,000 for female lone-parent families in Canada [3]. The earnings numbers are complicated by the differences in hours worked. The 2001 Census indicate 71% of female lone parents were employed, of which 61% were working full-time, while 17% were working part-time. In contrast, 82% of lone parent fathers were employed in 2001, of whom 84% worked mostly full-time while 6% worked mostly part-time [8]. However, the differential hours worked cannot account for the entire wage disparity.

Occupational segregation and pay inequity faced by women also exacerbate this wage gap. It is important to note that just as many women who are working part-time would rather be working full-time, but cannot find full-time employment [9]. Another complicating factor is the lack of affordable and accessible child care. Some lone mothers choose to remain outside of the paid labour force entirely to stay home to care for their children, and thus face making ends meet on welfare incomes, which are not adequate [10,11].


Differences in female lone-parent families exist between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations. Aboriginal populations in Canada have a lone-mother rate (31%) that is more than twice that of the non-Aboriginal population (13%) [12]. Furthermore, differences in employment exist among lone-mothers, with younger mothers (25-34) having much lower rates of employment in full-time work than older lone-mothers [13]


Current lone-mother data focuses on labour force participation and the income of lone-mothers [14]. Though income is an important determinant of health, data on factors such as ethnicity, education, and health services utilization are needed to fill the gap in lone-parent health data. Qualitative data would also help us better understand the experiences of lone mothers and how lone motherhood affects health.

Improved data on Aboriginal lone-parents is also needed to help explain the high rates of lone-parenthood, as well as increased data on non-Aboriginal ethnic minorities. Another data gap is the lack of longitudinal data on lone-parents. This data would provide insight into long-term effects of lone-parenthood on health [15]. Research based on social and economic inclusion frameworks are needed to create inclusive and responsive public policy [16].

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