Max Rady College of Medicine

Concept: Family Structure Overview - Links to Family Structure Data and Related Concepts and Glossary Terms

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Concept Description

Last Updated: 2024-05-31


    concept/Social Determinants of Health-SDOH-Digital Library-Image.jpg Family structure refers to the combination of related individuals that comprise a family and characterizes the diversity of family types. There are different ways of defining family structure, depending on theory, academic and public interests and availability and quality of data over time. Classifications of family structure most typically consider attributes such as marital status, kinship ties, type of relationship with the family head, cohabitation and age, among others.

Family Structure - definition and additional background information

    Although there are different ways in which family structure can be categorized, a simple typology is as follows:

    Family types with children:

    • Single-parent families: Includes one or more dependent children. The head of the family can be the biological parent, an adoptive parent or a legal guardian.
    • Two-parent families: Composed of a couple with children. Stepfamilies and blended families are variations of a two-parent family.

    Family types without children:

    • Couples: Also known as childless couples or childfree couples. It is composed of two childless individuals in a marital arrangement (marriage or common-law union) with at least one year of duration, denoting certain temporal stability, and not a dating relationship.
    • Unattached individuals: A family type composed of a single person who has no children and is not in a stable marital relationship with another person. Dating does not qualify as a stable relationship.


    The methods used to define the above family types are described under each of their respective concepts. See links in the Related Concepts section below.


  • The typology presented in this page can be approximated with the MCHP data holdings, although with some limitations. Researchers may make their own modifications.
  • Although it can be measured at a single point in time, family structure is a dynamic concept and changes over time, with the entry and exit of different individuals (parents, children) for different reasons (e.g., birth, death, marriage, separation, majority of age, etc.).
  • Some data elements needed to define family structure have limitations in the existing data holdings at the MCHP, such as fatherhood, divorce, to name a few.

Related concepts 

Related terms 


  • Statistics Canada. “Family structure of census family.” Definitions, data sources and methods. April 12, 2022. (Published on the Statistics Canada website: - accessed February 20, 2024). [Summary] (View)

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