Population & housing trends

Looking back in history, since the earliest of civilizations, humans have been sharing homes. Homes were designed not just for shelter but to encompass the peoples’ social values.

One example of this is the longhouse’s design, a home design used in many parts of the world, including the Vikings and Indigenous peoples across North America. The design of the longhouse reflects the social organization of the peoples’ culture.

Looking around the world, humans have historically always lived together in some form of community-minded housing. However, things look very different today, with more people living alone than in any other household structure.

Example of a longhouse once used by many people across North America.

The shift to living alone

The year 2016 marked an incredible milestone in Canada. It was the first year in history where one-person households outnumbered all other household structures. However, this trend is not unique to Canada; the same trend is seen in most developed countries. This trend started in the 1950s and accelerated through the 1980s. Canadian census data shows a 400% increase in people living alone between 1951 and 2016. Of all the demographics, seniors saw the most significant increase in living alone between 1981 and 2016.

A Statistics Canada study titled Living Alone in Canada shows, “The number of persons living alone in Canada has more than doubled over the last 35 years, from 1.7 million in 1981 to 4.0 million in 2016.” Looking at this data between 1981 and 2016 in a graphical form, we begin to see some interesting trends. Below in figures 1 and 2, we see the changes in male and female populations living alone.

WelcomeHome 3

Seniors living alone

Seniors saw the largest increase in living alone of all demographics between 1981 and 2016 by a factor of up to several hundred percent.

The issue of social isolation is also on the rise. According a Statistics Canada study, “The number of persons living alone in Canada has more than doubled over the last 35 years, from 1.7 million in 1981 to 4.0 million in 2016.” 

Chart of Canadian male population living alone, 2018 versus 2016 census Canada data
Chart of Canadian female population living alone, 2018 versus 2016 census Canada data

Why are more people living alone?

Several factors play a role in this shift. Statistics Canada reports these changes are mainly due to societal shifts, including no-fault divorce, people waiting longer to have kids or even not have any, urbanization, technology developments, and more public housing programs to subsidize living alone.

Living alone does provide a unique level of freedom and independence that fits some lifestyles very well. With a modern trend of building micro-apartments, it is becoming more affordable to have a place where you can live alone. There is nothing wrong with living alone. It is a lifestyle that suits many people at different stages of their life. However, there is a time and place were living alone may not be the best housing arrangement.

Chart of Canadian populating living alone 1981 versus 2016

Housing trends

Between 1951 and 2016, the average size of a single-family home in Canada increased from under 1000 square feet to over 2000 square feet. Meanwhile, the average number of occupants per household decreased from 4 to 2.4 persons. This equates to nearly a 400% increase in the amount of space for each person within their home. Over this same period, the cost of housing also increased significantly. This is reflected by the Canadian Housing Price Index, which shows a 250% increase from the mid1980s to 2020.

An exception to larger home sizes is newly developed condominiums. For example, in Ontario, Canada, the average new condo is 30% smaller than units built before the early 2000s. Condominiums are often among the most expensive properties on the market per square foot. Not only are you now paying more for condos, but you are also getting less!

Want to learn more? Visit this article from Statistics Canada

Figure 4 - Change in Canadian housing size and occupancy 1951 to 2016 – Statistics Canada 2016. Figure 4 – Change in Canadian housing size and occupancy 1951 to 2016 – Statistics Canada 2016.

Between 1951 and 2016, the average home size has more than doubled while the number of occupants has nearly halved. This means we have approximately 400% more space per person in homes today than those built in the 1950s.

Cost of Housing

Looking at new housing price index data from Statistics Canada, we can see a steady increase. In 1984 the new home price index was 38% of the 2016 new home price index, a 263% change! As of September 2020, the index has increased to 106.5%.

When comparing the average increase in household size, decrease in household occupants, and increase in new housing costs, it quickly becomes apparent that the economics of housing looks different today when compared to one or two generations before.

Canadian Housing Price Index HPI 1981 to 2020

So, what does this all mean?

We have seen a drastic change in our population and housing over the past 50 years. More people live alone, families are smaller and living further away, homes are getting larger, and people live longer with most of their later years being alone. Our housing stock and population trends are moving in opposite directions. This leaves us to question what the next 5, 10, and 20 years will look like. How will our housing stock match our population in the future?

Next, let’s look at how companion housing is one solution that can help create a more sustainable and resilient way for people to live among all this change.

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