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Time use: Total work burden, unpaid work, and leisure

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Moyser, M., & Burlock A.
Publication Date: 
30 Jul 2018

This new report from Statistics Canada, which adds to the Women in Canada series, looks at data from 1986, 2010, 2012 and 2015 to examine gender differences in time allocated to housework, caregiving, paid work, and leisure, underscoring how these have evolved over the past 30 years. Among others, findings indicate that men have not increased their participation in unpaid work to the same degree that women have increased their participation in paid work.


The increased labour force participation of women has led to changes in the economic structure of families. Since the mid-1970s, the proportion of dual-earner families has risen by about 20 percentage points (from 39.2% to 58.8%). At the same time, the proportion of lone-parent families has nearly doubled (from 8.4% to 14.2%), and the proportion of families in which the wife or female partner was the sole earner also grown. These changes have contributed to a steep decline in the proportion of families in which the husband or male partner was the sole earner.

With these changes, balancing work and family life has become more challenging for both women and men. The increasing contributions of women to the economic well-being of their families have eroded traditional gender roles, which assign women primary responsibility for unpaid work (i.e., housework and caregiving), and men primary responsibility for earning. The growing demands of paid work and family life have further eroded the gendered division of labour. Faced with economic pressures and global competition, employers often expect high levels of commitment from their lean workforces; rely heavily on communication technology (e.g., e-mail and cellular phones) and laptop computers that make it possible for employees to work at all times and from anywhere; and reward long hours of work and “face time” at the office. At the same time, parents–particularly mothers–are expected to invest heavily in childrearing, spending plenty of ‘quality time’ with their children, fostering their children’s development through exposure to a variety of extracurricular activities, and making constant efforts to enrich their children’s environment. Delayed childbearing and transitions to adulthood, as well as population aging, also increase the likelihood that both children and elderly parents need support from middle-aged workers.18 Together, these incongruous trends have renewed interest in how women and men share financial, child care, and household responsibilities.

Time is a finite resource, meaning that time spent on one activity reduces the amount of time available for other activities. Knowing how women and men allocate their time to various activities during a typical day is essential to understanding gender inequality in society, as one’s activities in the private sphere (i.e., housework and caregiving) have implications for the extent and nature of their participation in the public sphere (i.e., paid employment), and vice versa.

Using data from the 1986, 2010, and 2015 General Social Survey on Time Use and the 2012 General Social Survey on Caregiving and Care Receiving, this chapter of Women in Canada examines gender differences in the allocation of time to housework, caregiving and leisure, and how they have evolved over the past 30 years. The total work burden of women and men—defined as the amount of time spent on paid and unpaid work in combination—is also examined. Unless otherwise stated, the estimates presented here pertain to individuals aged 25 to 54 living in the 10 provinces, and exclude institutionalized populations, First Nations reserves, and those residing in the territories. This age group was chosen because it encompasses the years during the life course when earning and caring roles are most onerous. Young adults (aged 15 to 24) and seniors (aged 55 years or older) generally have different patterns of time use from working-age adults, as they are more likely to be full-time students or retired.

Entered Date: 
1 Aug 2018
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