Gen X and Gen Y, young adults roughly 19 to 45 today, face a different reality from their parents and grandparents.[1] There are very real pressures to delay marriage and children. At the same time, for the first time in history, they face those pressures within a cultural framework that encourages limitless and boundary free access to sexual intercourse. They face these while missing a life script that would guide them into adulthood with the greatest chances for thriving.

There are many reasons why the life script is missing.

University education, once a requirement of a good job, is today both common and costly. Graduate degrees have replaced the B.A. as baseline in the job hunt, extending school and piling on debt. A tough job market makes paying off that added debt difficult.

Fifty years ago houses could be had on one salary. No longer. Data from the Canadian Real Estate Association shows that prices in Toronto and Vancouver, adjusted for inflation, have risen 197 and 325 percent respectively, between 1976 and 2012.[2]

All of these financial pressures delay marriage and childbearing for those who need to have their financial house in order before reaching those milestones.

These delays happen without a storyline that would help guide young people through school to work, to life-long marriage and parenthood.[3]

What was the script? If you’re old enough, you remember. Put simplistically, it was a little rhyme for children: First comes love, then comes marriage, then come babies in a baby carriage. This script was built into the fabric of life decades ago. Society by and large expected marriage before children and understood that this was the only successful way to do life. This script has been lost. 

In its place is access to sex on demand alongside pornography and prostitution. As sexual intercourse is released from the confines of marriage, we are left with two colliding forces: the pressures that delay childbirth meet more children conceived outside of stable marital relationships.

The end effect of this collision is bad news for children. Those conceived before their parents are “ready” are often aborted.[4] Others are born into families of all shapes and types: single parent, blended. Too many are sent into foster families. 30,000 children in Canada are waiting to be adopted.[5]

When the script is gone, a lot of what is left is simply individual needs or wants without concern for children or families. Need evidence?  Look at Canada’s divorce rates: In the early 1960’s, before no-fault divorce was introduced there were 51 divorces for every thousand people.[6] In 2008, the last numbers available, there were 211.[7]

Common-law relationships have proliferated; between 1981 and 2011, the number of common-law relationships in Canada grew by 345 percent.[8] The number of married relationships grew by just less than 20 percent.[9]    Research shows that generally speaking common-law relationships are less stable than married relationships.[10]

What are the solutions? To lessen the financial pressures on young families, the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada has long advocated for family income splitting, where shared income would lower a family’s tax bill. For example, if a single income family had earnings of $70,000, taxing two earners at $35,000 each would drastically lower that families tax burden.

Government policy can ensure there is no marriage penalty, at the very least. But individuals, parents, families, schools, and churches and other religious communities are those who will create a culture which values marriage as the foundation of all that follows, as well as the best context in which to raise children. On both counts, it may be too late for Gen X and Y. The younger generations are the ones that must be reached, before they try to navigate life without that handy little script in their back pocket.

Derek Miedema is a researcher at the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada. He is the author of The trouble with Gen-X and Gen-Y families and Why starting a family today is harder than it was for the Baby Boomers.

This article first appeared in LifeCanada's Reflections Magazine, January 2014


[1] For more information on who Gen-X and Y are, see Statistics Canada. (2011). Generations in Canada. Retrieved from

[2] Canadian Real Estate Association, with author’s calculations to adjust for inflation.

[3] The concept of “life script,” applied to marriage and class by American intellectual Kay Hymowitz refers to the lack of family norms, and the changing path to adulthood that delays marriage and children. Hymowitz, K. ( 2006). Marriage and caste in America: Separate and unequal families in a post-marital age. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee

[4] Canadian Institute for Health Information. (2013). Induced abortions reported in Canada in 2011. See Table 1. Retrieved from

[5] Soronen, R. (2013, November 13)). Solving Canada’s adoption crisis. National Post. Retrieved from

[6] This is the 1966 divorce rate. See Statistics Canada, Table B75-81. Number of marriages and rate, average age at marriage for brides and bridegrooms, number of divorces and rate, net family formation, Canada, 1921 to 1974. Retrieved from

[7] Statistics Canada. (2008). Cansim Table 101-6501: Divorces and crude divorce rates, Canada, provinces and territories, 2006 to 2008.

[8] Statistics Canada. (2012). Fifty years of families in Canada: 1961 to 2011. See Over time, the share of married-couple families has decreased. Retrieved from

[9] Ibid.

[10] Le Bourdais, C. and Lapierre-Adamcyk, É. (2004). Changes in conjugal life in Canada: Is cohabitation progressively replacing marriage? Journal of Marriage and Family, vol. 66, pp. 937.

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