Discussion Paper No. 09-01


Families may be defined as people who share resources and care for each other. These earning and caring activities have undergone change, especially in terms of the de-linking of gender to their division in families. After considering the basis of change in families, in the economy and in models of earning and caring, this paper updates the average hours of paid and unpaid work of women and men, based on the Statistics Canada time use surveys of 1986, 1992, 1998 and 2005. The focus is on gender as well as marital, parental and employment status over the life course.

We also identify five models of the division of work: complementary-traditional, complementarygender reversed, women’s double burden, men’s double burden, and shared roles. While the complementary-traditional model is declining, it still represents a third of couples. Women’s double burden is the second largest category, representing 27% of couples in 2005, with men’s double burden representing another 11%. The shared roles account for about a quarter of couples.

We show that life course considerations, as well as structural and cultural factors, are determinants of these alternative models of earning and caring. In particular, the complementary-traditional and women’s double burdens are more likely for older persons, and for persons with young children. Alternative models are more common when women have higher relative resources, for younger persons, and for persons living in Quebec and in urban areas. The indicators of well-being and social support show mixed results across models. Nonetheless, the shared roles model is high on measures of happiness and life satisfaction for both women and men.

We propose that equal opportunities in the broader society are relevant to the relative predominance of models of earning and caring, as is social policy and the aspirations for relationships based on mutuality and sharing rather than complementary roles.