The Second Demographic Transition, including flexibility in types of unions and in entry and exit from unions, has increased the diversity across families. There has been a significant cultural and political dynamic to celebrate this diversity as an increase in individual options, beyond the heterosexual couples with children in a traditional division of labour.

Diversity can be expressed in various ways: economic families or unattached individuals, married or common law, two parents or lone parent, opposite sex or same sex, breadwinner or two earners, traditional division of work and care or collaborative model, couples with and without children, intact or step-families (simple or complex).

On the basis of Canadian data from 1981 to 2011, this paper investigates the extent to which the greater diversity can be seen as representing risks and inequality across families and individuals. With the increase in women’s economic contributions to families, there are important contrasts between two-earner couples, compared to breadwinner and lone parent families. Selectivity into union formation and dissolution, along with assortative mating, are further drivers of inequality.

There is increased complexity for policy to support individuals and families that are diverse in their family life course and in their needs.