Are Fathers Pulling Their Weight at Home? (Revised June 2012)

In the 1980s, California sociologist Arlie Hochschild coined the phrase "The Second Shift" to describe the extra load of unpaid work women in dual career households were doing at home. Since then experts and commentators have debated whether or not fathers are doing their fair share of caring for children, cooking, cleaning and other domestic work. Yet these discussions almost never take into account the fact that fathers continue to devote signficantly more time to paid work than mothers.

Time use research shows that, although fathers' participation child care and housework has increased since the 1970s, mothers continue to do more unpaid domestic work than fathers, on average. These averages are affected by several factors. One obvious factor is that, mothers' increasing participation in the workforce notwithstanding, women are more likely than men to spend significant amounts of time out of the paid work force, often because they are at home caring for children. Mothers are also more likely than fathers to work part-time.  What is less well known is that, even among fathers and mothers who are employed full-time, fathers tend to work longer hours than mothers.

And, it turns out that the extra time fathers spend on paid work and commuting is equal to the extra time mothers devote child care and other domestic work.

The Parent Work Day

If we think of a parent's "work day" as the total of paid and unpaid work, data from Statistics Canada's 2010 General Social Survey (GSS) show that the "work days" of full-time employed fathers and mothers are essentially the same length during the prime parenting years.  As Table 1 shows, the main difference between mothers' and fathers' work days is that, on average, fathers put in 1.6 more hours paid work (including commuting time) and mothers devote 1.7 more hours to unpaid work.

Table 1. Average hours per day spent on paid and unpaid work by married fathers and mothers aged 25 -44 and employed full-time (at least one child under 19 at home)

Paid work Child Care* Other Unpaid Work Total (Paid and Unpaid work)
Fathers 6.6
1.3 2.4 10.3
Mothers 5.0 1.9 3.5 10.4

* The GSS, which records detailed time-use information from a large sample of Canadians, defines child care as activities which involve direct contact with the child. Clearly parents spend other time with children, which would not be recorded as child care in this table. It's also important to note that the daily paid work hours used in these tables (which include commuting time) are based on the average over a full 7-day week as opposed to a 5-day work week. Thus, fathers' average of 6.6 hours of paid work a day in Table 1 would translate into a weekly total of  46.2 hours spent on paid work and commuting. Statistics Canada defines full-time employment as 30-hours or more hours of paid work per week.

Similar patterns can be seen in the work days of single parents and older parents.

Table 2. Average hours per day spent on paid and unpaid work by lone parent fathers and mothers aged 25-44 and employed full-time (at least one child under 19 at home)

Paid Work Child Care Other Unpaid Work Total
Fathers 7.1
1.2 2.5 10.7
Mothers 6.3 1.5 3.1 11.0

Table 3, Average hours per day spent on child care and other unpaid work by married fathers and mothers aged 45-64 (at least one child under 19 at home)

Paid Work Child Care Other Unpaid Work Total
Fathers 6.5 0.4 2.9 9.9
Mothers 5.3 0.5
4.8 9.6

(Tables constructed from data specially prepared for FIRA from the 2010 General Social Survey, Statistics Canada. FIRA is grateful for the assistance of Marcel Béchard, of Statistics Canada.)

The above data strongly suggests that employed parents only have so much time available each day for paid and unpaid work, and thus, time devoted to unpaid work is highly influenced by the amount of time spent doing paid work.  That relationship is further illuminated if we look at changes in parents' patterns of paid and unpaid work between 2005 and 2010.

Both fathers and mothers age 25 - 44 decreased their average paid work hours between 2005 and 2010. The reasons for this shift have not yet been analyzed, but what is interesting is that the extra time that both fathers and mothers had available due to reduced hours of paid work was eaten up by increased unpaid work,  as the following table show.

Table 4. Shifts in time spent on paid and unpaid work between 2005 and 2010 by married and common-law fathers and mothers aged 25 -44 and employed full-time (at least one child under 19 at home) 

Paid work
Unpaid Work Total (Paid and Unpaid work)
Fathers   -0.8 hours/day
   +0.8 hours/day

10.4 (2010)

10.5 (2005)

Mothers   -0.6 hours/day
   +0.6 hour/day

10.4 (2010)

10.5 (2005)

It should be noted that one limitation of time-use diaries is that they cannot measure the management aspect of parenting responsibility (planning, scheduling and keeping track) that most most observers agree tends to be borne primarily by mothers (Daly, 2002). However, the data presented here does suggest that as long as fathers continue to work longer hours than mothers they will most likely continue to do less child care and other domestic work. 



Data from several different studies shows that more fathers are taking leave for family reasons.

• The rate of fathers taking paternity leave has risen dramatically. In 2010 27% of eligible men filed for parental leave benefits compared to only 3% in 2001. Much of the increase took place in Quebec where fathers can take five weeks of leave which cannot be transferred to the mother. In Quebec, 77.6% of fathers took paid parental leave in 2010. In the rest of Canada the rate was 11% (Statistics Canada, 2011)

• Other research shows that, overall 55% of fathers take time off from work around the time their children are born – 21% use vacation days and 11% take unpaid leave (Beaupré and Cloutier 2007).

• Canadian fathers of preschoolers missed an average of 6.3 work days for personal or family reasons in 2007, up from 1.8 days in 1997. The corresponding numbers for mothers were 4.1 days in 1997 and 4.8 days in 2007.


  • The number of fathers reporting daily participation in child care rose from 57% in 1986 to 73% in 2005. (90% of mothers reported daily participation in both 1986 and 2005.)
  • In 1986, the average mother did 2.2 hours more housework per day than fathers (3.3 vs. 1.1 hours). By 2005 the difference had decreased to 1.3 hours (2.8 vs. 1.5 hours).
  • The proportion of dual-earner families among husband/wife families with children under 16, was 36% in 1976 and 68% in 2010.
  • Although mothers are still far more likely to be out of the workforce and at home caring for young children, the number of stay-home mothers is decreasing and the number of stay-home fathers is increasing.
  • In 2011* 13% of families with a stay-home parent had a father at home, compared to 4% in 1986.
  • The number of fathers who worked part-time while their spouse worked full-time increased from 6,555 in 1976 to 52,765 in 2010.


Beaupré, P,, Cloutier, E, (2006). Navigating Family Transitions: Evidence from the General Social Survey. Analytical Paper, General Social Survey, Cycle 20: Family Transitions Survey. Statistics Canada.

Marshall, K., (2006). Converging Gender Roles. Perspectives on Labour and Income, Vol. 7 No. 7, July 2006, Statistics Canada.

Daly, K. J. (2002). Time, gender and the negotiation of family schedules. Symbolic Interaction, 25, 323-342.

Employment Insurance Coverage Survey, The Daily, June 27, 2011. Statistics Canada.

Unpublished data from the 2010 General Social Survey, supplied to FIRA by Statistics Canada

Unpublished data from the 2005 General Social Survey, supplied to FIRA by Statistics Canada 

 *unpublished data from the Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey 2011


Prepared by John Hoffman with the assistance of Zenaida Ravenara, Research Associate at the Centre for Population Studies, University of Western Ontario