Discussion Paper no. 04-10


From the 1980s, there has been a trend among young Canadians to delay their transition to adulthood. This is seen as an indicator of greater investment in career and work life (most often, with parental help) before investing in reproduction. However, there are concerns expressed particularly for women that those with smaller parental and personal resources follow a different life course trajectory. They become parents at younger ages and are more likely to experience family dissolution and lone parenthood.

The study uses Statistics Canada’s 2001 General Social Survey on Family History and focuses on men and women born from 1966 to 1975. The timing of transitions by social status is examined for events related to work (school completion and start of regular work) and family life (home-leaving, first union, and first birth). The trajectories through these life course events (or states) are then traced for men and women by categories of social status. A multi-state life table technique of analysis is used to examine the probabilities of experiencing particular pathways among the various states and the duration of stay in each state.

We find that the onset of parenthood differs by social status with differences larger for women than men. As for trajectories to parenthood, the normatively preferred trajectory wherein parenthood is preceded by graduation from post-secondary education, regular work, and marriage is common mainly for those with high social status. Our analysis also shows that becoming parents without marrying is more likely among those with low status; and that the age at onset of parenthood is largely determined by the number of prior transitions.