Research Program

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Through our Research Program, the Vanier Institute of the Family strives to produce and publish timely and high quality research and analysis – in English and French – that speaks to the diverse realities of Canadian families today.

The goal of the Vanier Institute Research Program is to explore key social, economic, cultural and environmental challenges and opportunities important to the well-being of Canadian families today, with a view to supporting the development of effective action – “translating” and linking research findings into practice.

The Vanier Institute produces research papers and fact sheets as well as Transition magazine. In addition, the Institute commissions additional work from noted academics and practitioners on key issues relevant to Canadian families.

Principles Underlying the Research Program

Research Framework

Principles Underlying the Research Program

In conducting and publishing research, the Institute is guided by the following principles. These principles apply equally to all of the Institute’s research, whether it is commissioned or contracted or it is produced in-house.

The research program:
  • Is committed to the highest standards of research, including the ethical conduct of research as set out in the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct of Research Involving Humans (
  • Is independent – the Institute is a non-partisan, non-sectarian and non-aligned voice for Canada’s families
  • Is committed to producing widely accessible materials – in a variety of print and electronic formats – that can be used by a number of different audiences
  • Is committed to active outreach and engagement with various audiences and stakeholders, to enrich democratic dialogue and ensure Canadians know there are workable solutions to the issues we face

Research Framework

The Vanier Institute Research Program is organized around a small number of content areas related to the functions and activities of families and family well-being. Each of the research areas related to life of Canadian families has a set of key indicators and related research products such as The Current State of Canadian Family Finances. The Families Count publication provides the opportunity to cover several of these areas as it relates to both the determinants and the outcomes of family life in Canada. These products build on past work and areas of expertise and encompass, among other things, statistical profiles and commentary.

Vanier Institute Publications

  • Contemporary Family Trends Paper Series (website publication, 2 to 5 per year): a series of occasional papers authored by leading Canadian experts in the field of family studies
  • The Current State of Canadian Family Finances (every year since 1999): an annual publication that provides annual, accurate, current and accessible information on family incomes, expenditures, savings and debt trends
  • Fascinating Families (online monthly publication): a fact sheet highlighting key social and economic trends influencing Canada’s families
  • By the Numbers (online monthly publication): a fact sheet highlighting key facts and statistics on a given topic that is currently influencing Canada’s families
  • Transition Magazine (4 per year, every season): a bilingual magazine for and about Canada’s families. Each issue features guest articles by experts on family life and examines the trends and policies affecting Canadian families today
  • Families Count: Profiling Canada’s Families (1994, 2000, 2005, 2010): an up-to-date, comprehensive and reliable source of statistical information on Canadian families in all of their diversity

The research framework is comprised of two main areas. The first examines family life, including family formation, the roles and responsibilities of families, family well-being and the status of different groups of families in Canada. The second steps back to look at the interplay of ideas, interests and institutions that provide the changing context of Canadian’s lives.

Across all research areas, the Institute highlights the situation of individuals and families who experience disadvantage in Canadian society, in particular Aboriginal, visible minority and recent immigrant families, as well as those with members with a physical or mental disability or long-term health problems.

Issues of social inclusion and social exclusion, as they pertain to gender, age and sexual orientation, while comprising a theme in its own right, are also relevant to all other themes. The situation of low-income families and the challenges they face are also highlighted across the body of Vanier research.

Family Life

The following research streams have been chosen to loosely structure the Vanier Institute’s work on family life. In addition of examining the different roles and responsibilities of families, this research framework includes an examination of family formation and dissolution as well as topics and issues related to family well-being. The status of different groups of families such as Aboriginal families or same-sex families is also highlighted.

1. Family Formation and Dissolution

That families have changed and continue to change is now part of conventional wisdom. The variety and diversity of family forms found today – as in the past – speaks to the changing ways in which families form and reform over time. Rising rates of cohabitation among young people, declining rates of fertility and relatively high rates of separation and divorce – and, in turn, re-partnering – characterize family formation today. Canadians by and large still choose to live in families. What is changing is how families come together and the ways in which they care and support each other. This research stream sets out to document changing patterns of family formation, including demographics, and their impact on family life.

2. Family Roles and Responsibilities

Care and Reproduction
Of all of the areas of family life, the labour of bringing new life into the world and of providing care for family members – young and old – is perhaps the quickest to mind. The organization and experience of care and reproduction have been subject to tremendous change over the past 50 years, driven in part by technological innovation, economic transformation and a profound shift in thinking about women’s role in society. This research stream will explore the status of care and reproduction in Canada, documenting the ongoing debates about the value of caring and the division of caring labour.
Family Relationships
The concept of family refers to a group of individuals bound together over time by ties of mutual consent, birth and/or adoption or placement. Families take many forms, but it is the unique set of relationships – and responsibilities – that sets families apart from other forms of social organization. This research stream will focus on relationships, specifically, the types and quality of relationships at different points in time, the factors that help explain relationship trajectories, and the impact of relationships on the well-being of family members. This will include, for example, the central importance of positive parenting for child development and intergenerational dynamics as well as the devastating impact of abuse and neglect within the family, particularly for women, children and other vulnerable members.
Family Spending and Production
Economic cooperation is a defining feature of families. Individuals come together not only to form bonds of care, affection and interest, but to pursue economic cooperation through the generation, exchange and distribution of economic resources. We can think about the economic foundation and function of families in many ways. On the one hand, families play a critical role in the market economy – selling their labour to generate resources to sustain its members and, in so doing, generating the resources to sustain local and national economies. On the other hand, families and kinship networks, more broadly, are themselves economic units. Saving money for a child’s post-secondary education, supporting elderly parents, renovating the family home – all of these activities highlight the centrality of intra-family production and exchange. Thus, families need markets and markets need families. This research stream will look at a variety of topics tied to economic security – with a particular emphasis on the status of low-income families and their different sources of economic security (e.g., labour market, government transfers, support from families and friends, public services and the social economy). In addition, research will continue to document the ways in which families combine their caring responsibilities and participation in the paid labour market and the impact of work/family balance on family well-being.
Community Life
This stream will focus on the connection between families and community life – both communities of place and of interest. The connection between family and community is an important one, as evidenced in the growing literature on the impact of neighbourhood effects on healthy child development. How do family members relate to community? What is the character and impact of these relationships? How does this vary:  by income, by ethno-cultural group, by geography? What types of supports are available in communities to support families? How are new technologies affecting family-community relationships?

3. Family Well-Being (Physical, Mental, Social, Spiritual)

The Family Well-Being stream is very broad in scope and has been designed to capture and track trends in family well-being. This includes the well-being of families as a unit and the well-being of individual members – children and teens, young adults, parents and working-age adults, and seniors. As well, this research stream will afford the opportunity to track trends in the status and well-being of vulnerable populations, including people with disabilities, low-income households, newcomers and so forth.

4. Family Diversity

Just as there are important differences in family form and structure, there are also important differences between groups of families based on socio-demographic characteristics such as ethnicity or racial identity, geographic location or income or employment status. The goal of the Family Diversity research stream is to document the varied experiences of families as well as the opportunities and challenges that groups such as Aboriginal families or same-sex families face.

Families and Society

The structure and practice of families described above take place against a broader backdrop. One of the critical tasks for the Institute’s research program will be to illuminate and explore these connections between society and family well-being.

As a starting point, the research program will monitor social, economic and cultural trends using the following research themes:
  • Economy
  • Social and Cultural Life
  • Law
  • Built and Natural Environment
  • Ideas and Interests

Our goal at the Vanier Institute of the Family is to produce and publish a body of work across a defined number of research areas that reflects – and facilitates the understanding of – “the reality of the family as people live it.”

The potential is enormous – as are the range of topics. One particular goal will be to highlight the voices of young people and families wherever we can in order to ground the research program in the lived experience of Canadians. Reaching out and engaging with families and communities will ensure the ongoing relevance of the Vanier Institute’s research program.

While the research program is ambitious, it contains elements of flexibility, for it is essential that the Institute is responsive to emerging issues relevant to the well-being of Canadian families. The Institute therefore welcomes feedback on the above research themes and suggestions for further areas of research on emerging issues of concern to Canadian families.