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Appeal for Numbers

Andrea Mrozek, program director for Cardus Family, touched off a media flurry last week when she spearheaded an appeal signed by 30 prominent academics asking Statistics Canada to resume collecting data on marriage across Canada. She sat down with Convivium’s Peter Stockland to explain why marriage numbers matter.

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Appeal for Numbers February 5, 2019  |  By Andrea Mrozek
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Convivium: Were you surprised by the media response your letter to Statistics Canada generated, including coverage on CBC and in the Globe and Mail

Andrea Mrozek: I thought this process was going to be far more mundane and boring - a letter to the ministers and nothing more. I sent the joint letter to several journalists to sign it only because I know journalists need good data to do their stories and not because I thought they would want to report about this. It was surprising to me that some of them signed, but also that there was a higher level of interest in reporting than I thought there’d be on the issue. To be fair, the Globe journalist had already done his story on missing data points in Canada, in a 6,000-word piece they put out on a Saturday. This fit in as a follow up. 

Convivium: Tell us about the initiative itself. You got 30 academics to sign a letter of appeal…

Andrea Mrozek: A joint letter. We wanted reputable people in their fields, who could use this data (on marriage), to state the gravity of what happens when the data is missing. 

C: And what does happen when the data is missing?

AM: (Marriage) data's available at the provincial level and vital stats. And we do get snapshots from the Census. But it's just a snapshot, and it's every five years, not annually. So, for the last Census, we wanted to do an international comparison, and also a historical comparison, for family data. But we weren't able to insert Canada for some pretty basic data points. We had it for countries like the USA, the U.K., Australia and so on. But not Canada. 

Once you understand that marriage is a public institution and is a marker for things other than just your own personal relationship, you want to have that data to be able to discuss the other things it correlates with. For example, social isolation, childcare, aspects of eldercare, how public policy is designed around those issues. I think marriage would have a bearing on them.

C: When did Stats Can stop collecting the data as Stats Can, or at least making it publicly available? And what was the rationale for doing so? 

AM: It stopped in 2008. I don't know why, though I don't really believe it was politically motivated. The best guess that I can come up with, which is just a guess, is that we, generally speaking, don't value marriage as much as we should. And therefore it appears as an easy thing to drop, if you want to make a quick cutback. But it was dropped under the Harper Conservatives. So, it's a nonpartisan issue of whether you value marriage or not. Most people don't.

C: Is there argument, though, that because the data is out there in other places, available for those who want to go and look for it, that they don't need to also Statistics Canada to make it available? Is it basically an issue of duplication? 

AM: It's not easily replicated, though. I know that we have tried, or we had asked and inquired about how to get the stats in other ways. And it's a very labour-intensive thing for a small organization to take on, and probably ditto for any academic. The question becomes: "Do you want to hire a full-time researcher for a year every year to get this data for the research you want to do?” It's something better done by the official agency with the resources to do it.

C: Is part of your argument that they've extended their reach to make other kinds of information available, and basically that crowded the marriage data out? Or it's simply that they don't value the collection of marriage data?

AM: Well, I hope they haven't crowded it out. They do collect cohabitation data, for example, still. I think there might be some arguments on the side of: "Family life is complex these days. And how do you gather this?" But if you can collect cohabitation data, for example, collecting marriage data is clearer and should be an easier thing to collect. 

C: Do you take it, though, as a signal of the devaluation of marriage itself? 

AM: I do know that, in general, people don't value marriage as a public institution, and they don't value it for the strength that it holds as being a gold standard for lifelong love. They don't value it as the gold standard for raising children, or don't even know these things. So it would be possible though, again, I would not assign motivations to think, "Well, this doesn't really matter. We don't need this anymore. More people, increasing numbers of people are living together, so let's just measure that.” The other, more complex data point I believe they still do collect is step-family, stepparents. I think they started collecting that  in response to there being more and more step-families. So, again, it's a more complex thing to measure. We're missing the basic thing.

C: Have you had an response from Statistics Canada since the letter was sent?

AM: Well, the letter goes to the ministers in charge of Stats Can, so we haven't heard back from those ministers. And those ministers would have to ask Stats Can the same way I would, about the details of what it means to collect this data or not. But I did reach out to one woman working at Stats Can, and she agreed that it was a legitimate issue. She wasn't able to sign (the letter) for institutional reasons, but wished us well so...

C: What’s your next step? And what’s your end objective? 

AM: Have a conversation with them. We’d love to meet and have a conversation with them, and since it would be a budgetary to restore the funding, March would be a good time for them to put that money back in. They could announce (in the federal budget) that they they're going to fund it again. What we’re looking for is a complete picture of family life in Canada. And this is, to our minds, a very basic data point. So by all means, please do continue to so collect the other, more complex ones. Just add this back in.

But I’d say it's already a happy day in this divided world when people of all different backgrounds and ideological persuasions can just agree on and sign a letter saying, “We need this data." It seemed to be quite uncontroversial, which has been very edifying.


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