Canadians are less inclined towards marriage than Americans. How much less?
The picture on the left shows the percentage of Americans currently married by age, taken from pewsocialtrends.org. The picture on the right shows the same information for Canada, taken from the 1961 and 2011 censuses. The 1961 Canadian census does not break out 18-24 year olds - only 20-24 years olds (45 percent married) and 15-19 year olds (5 percent married).
In 1960/61 Canadian and US marriage patterns were strikingly similar. By 2010/11, however, the percentage of Canadians who were married (as opposed to in common law unions) was significantly lower than the comparable percentage for Americans, especially among 25-34 year olds, even though the Canadian numbers also include legally married same sex couples.
It's difficult to create Canadian racial categories that are directly comparable to US ones. A Mexican who self-identified as white would be considered white in the Canadian statistics, for example, but Hispanic in the US ones. On the other hand, an Iranian could be considered a "visible minority" in Canada but would be white in the US.
The picture below/on the right shows the percentage of the population legally married, by age, for "visible minorities" (a term that includes Blacks, East and South Asians, as well as West Asians and Hispanics who do not identify as white), Aboriginal Canadians, and "Whites" - the latter term being used here to refer to anyone who is neither a self-identified member of a visible minority, nor an Aboriginal Canadian.
I was actually stunned by the differences in marriage rates across the groups. Admittedly, if Quebec, where common law marriage is more prevalent, was excluded from the analysis, the differences would be smaller, but the numbers are still large.
Part of the difference between marriage rates in Canada and the US may come down to incentives. In Canada there are limited tax advantages to being legally married, and common-law couples and legally married couples are treated more-or-less identically in the tax-benefit system. In fact, legal marriage might be thought to have disadvantages, especially in Quebec, to the extent that it complicates separation and the termination of relationships.
In the US, on the other hand, marriage is advantageous, from a taxation point of view, for couples where one spouse has middle-to-high earnings and the other spouse has lower earnings. (The tax advantages to marriage are smaller or non-existent at low income levels, or when spouses have equal earnings.) Differences in the US and Canadian tax regimes might explain the higher rate of marriage among US whites as opposed to Canadian ones. Also, to the extent that income and earnings are correlated with race, tax/benefit factors might contribute to differences in marriage rates across racial groups in the US.
Values, cultures, and social norms, however, also matter. Because I was interested, I did a quick calculation of the percentage of people over 18 who are currently legally married, by visible minority group.
The various visible minority groups have quite different demographic structures. For example, the "not visible minority" group is, on average, much older than most visible minority groups, with the exception of some long-standing visible minority groups such as Japanese-Canadians. Comparisons of marriage rates between groups with different age structures are problematic, because marriage patterns have been changing over time, and because the proportion of the population who are married rises and then falls as a population ages. So these numbers give only a very rough indication of the differences in propensity to marry across different ethnic groups.
My number one take-away from all of these graphs?
If being legally married is a rough-and-ready indicator of a person's susceptibility to conservative values, then anyone trying to reach a conservative-values target-audience should be aiming very slightly more towards men than women, at middle-aged Canadians, and, among younger Canadians, at Chinese, South Asian, West Asian, Arab, Korean and (male) Filipino voters.