by Katherine Marshall
Most adults spend years working at a paid job and working at home to maintain and run a household. Many factors influence the amount and type of paid and unpaid household labour performed, including where people are in their life cycle, the economy, their family status and social expectations. Understanding the distribution and division of paid and unpaid work over the life course helps with the development of workplace and family-related programs and policies.
Although a division of labour still exists within families, the hours of paid work, average earnings, and time spent on domestic labour and child care are becoming more similar between spouses in Canada and other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.1 A parallel narrowing of the housework gap has been found among Canadian teenaged boys and girls.2
These findings suggest that the division of labour and role expectations for men and women are continuing to evolve. This may be especially true for Generation Y—those born between 1980 and 1995 and who grew up during a period of changing family dynamics and family formation. Their baby boomer parents, born and raised after the Second World War, were predominantly dual earners and a substantial number of mothers were the primary earners.3 Furthermore, during Generation Y’s childhood some of their fathers were likely to have taken paid parental leave, a program that was introduced and offered to fathers for the first time in 1990.
Age cohorts exposed to the same historical and cultural phenomena tend to share similar points of view.4 Furthermore, the development of generational attitudes and behaviours are thought to be created in the formative years and often stabilize in adulthood.5 Has being raised in a dual-earner culture influenced how the men and women of Generation Y participate in paid and unpaid household work? Has the division of labour within couples of this generation continued to converge?
This article uses time use data from the 1986, 1998 and 2010 General Social Survey on Time Use to examine changes in the participation in and time spent on paid work and unpaid household work of individuals aged 20 to 29 from three generations—late baby boomers and those in Generations X and Y (see “What you should know about this study”). This age range is selected so that Generation Y can be included in the study. The 2010 data offer a first-time opportunity to examine the time use of Generation Y—a group now in early adulthood. The final section looks at the distribution of time spent on paid and unpaid work within dual-earner couples.
Every year since 1985, the General Social Survey (GSS) has interviewed Canadians aged 15 and over living in the 10 provinces on a wide range of issues. Using a 24-hour diary instrument, the GSS has collected detailed information on time use in five years (1986, 1992, 1998, 2005 and 2010). Individual activities are recorded sequentially over a 24-hour period, which is known as Diary Day. All activities are subsequently coded to a standard international classification. Each day of the week is sampled, and calculations from time use data are usually averaged over a 7-day period. While the 1986 survey collected data during the months of November and December only, all other cycles covered a 12-month period.
Since the GSS is a random-digit telephone survey and the frame consists of landline telephone numbers, households with cell phones only are excluded from the sample.
Target population: all respondents aged 20 to 29 at the time of the 1986, 1998 and 2010 surveys, with sample counts of 2,400, 1,700 and 1,500, respectively. The age range and respective survey years cover the majority of late baby boomers, and Generation X and Generation Y when they were in their 20s (see “Three generations” below for details).
Paid work: time spent on all activities related to a job or business. The time use surveys also include total time spent travelling to and from the workplace as well as unpaid work in a business and on a farm.
Unpaid household work: time spent on all household work and related activities including housework, child care and shopping for goods and services.
Housework: is one form of unpaid household work and is often divided into core and non-core activities; this study includes time spent on both. Core housework includes time spent on meal preparation, meal clean-up (doing the dishes, clearing the table), indoor cleaning (dusting, vacuuming) and laundry. Non-core work includes activities such as outdoor cleaning, mending or sewing, interior or exterior maintenance and repair, gardening, pet and plant care, and household administration.
Living with one or both parents: all those currently at home with one or both parents as well as those who are temporarily away at school or for seasonal work. Anyone temporarily absent is coded as living in the household if he or she spends at least 30 days of the year at home.
Dual earners: are defined as married or common-law couples in which the main activity of both partners in the previous seven days was “working at a paid job or business.”
Activity participation rate: the proportion of the population (or subpopulation) that reported spending some time on a particular activity on Diary Day. The participation rate is a daily rate and, unless otherwise specified, the rate is an average daily rate over a 7-day week (average of the daily rates for Sunday through Saturday Diary Days).
Average time spent on specific activities of the population or subpopulation: the total time all respondents reported spending on a given activity divided by the population, and averaged over a 7-day week. The average time spent on activities for participants refers to the average time spent only for those who participated in the activity on Diary Day, but again averaged over 7 days.
Linear regression models: were used to examine the relationship between time spent (number of minutes) on paid work and housework on Diary Day and selected explanatory variables. Models were run for both men and women from each generation. Multicollinearity diagnostic tests were run for all models and bootstrap weights were used to adjust for the survey design.
Through the works of renowned Canadians like economist David Foot and author Douglas Coupland, most people are aware to which generation they belong. The baby boom generation, born between 1947 and 1966, is probably the best known, but much has been written about the baby bust (1967 to 1979) and echo boom (1980 to 1995) generations, also known as Generations X and Y.1
Generations are delineations of birth years based on distinct historical periods. They include people born during a similar economic and cultural time period, which helps shape attitudes and behaviours. Studying generational differences improves insight into potential future social and economic change. According to Foot, demographic dynamics explain “two-thirds of everything” including consumer behaviour, demand for services, education, and family formation, all of which can influence public policy.2
This study examines trends in time spent on paid and unpaid work for the above-mentioned three generations when they were between the ages of 20 and 29. This age range is chosen for comparability purposes and because it is roughly the age range of Generation Y in 2010. The timing of the previous time use surveys also makes this study possible. For example, in 1986 (the first year of the Canadian GSS Time Use survey) late baby boomers3 who were born between 1956 and 1966 were aged 20 to 30. Therefore, for comparability, late baby boomers born between 1957 and 1966 are included in the study as this represents the 20-to-29 age group in 1986. The 1998 GSS Time Use survey is used to examine Generation X. Although this generation’s birth years range from 1967 to 1979, the study includes the years 1969 to 1978 as this represents those who were aged 20 to 29 in 1998. Finally, those born between 1981 and 1990 are selected from the 2010 GSS time use survey to represent Generation Y at age 20 to 29.
Late baby boomers were part of the second wave of the baby boom and included the peak years of the annual birth rate (see chart below). Between 1957 and 1966 there were approximately 4.6 million births in Canada. The introduction of the birth control pill and the increased involvement of women in the labour market have been linked to the substantial fall in the birth rate starting in the 1960s.4 Between 1969 and 1978, there were 3.6 million births, and between 1981 and 1990, 3.8 million. The total population by birth year changes over time as deaths and emigration occur and as immigrants arrive.
A profile of late baby boomers and Generations X and Y shows that several socio-economic characteristics have changed considerably from one generation to the next (Table 1). Some noteworthy generational differences include the following:
Despite the varying socioeconomic characteristics of the three generations, findings from the GSS Time Use surveys indicate that, overall, the participation in and time spent on paid work and unpaid household activities is relatively similar across the years. Averaged over the week, 24-hour diary data show that about one-half of young adults aged 20 to 29 in all three periods (1986, 1998 and 2010) worked at a job the day they were interviewed, and more than three-quarters did some form of unpaid household work including housework, child care or shopping for goods and services (Table 2). At 47%, the daily participation rate in paid work was lowest for Generation Y.
In terms of unpaid household work, daily participation is consistently highest for housework, which increased from 63% among late baby-boomers in 1986 to 70% among Generation Y in 2010, and relatively low for child care (roughly 1 in 5) and shopping and services (roughly 2 in 5). Participation in child care is low for all three generations because only a minority of those aged 20 to 29 had children.
Among those who participated in the selected activities on Diary Day, on average much more time was spent on paid work (ranging from 8.5 to 8.8 hours per day) than unpaid work (ranging from 3.1 to 3.5 hours per day). Two notable changes between 1986 and 2010 include a significant decrease in the average time spent by participants on housework, down from 2.1 to 1.7 hours, and an increase in child care from 2.4 to 3.0 hours.
The change in housework time is likely linked to the greater proportion of young people living at home who, generally, do less housework than those living on their own. However, findings for the total population show that there has been an overall decline in time spent on housework in Canada and the United States.10 Since the daily participation rate for housework has increased and the time participants spend on it has decreased, the average time spent on housework spread over the population has changed only slightly over the generations (from 1.3 hours in 1986 to 1.2 hours in 2010).
The increase in time spent on child care may be due to the fact that Generation Y parents have younger children at home. In 2010, among Generation Y parents, 56% had an infant (under age 2) to care for, compared with 48% for Generation X in 1998.11
Although the global picture of generational change in paid and unpaid work appears nominal, trends by sex tell a different story. The remainder of this paper focuses on differences between men and women in paid work and housework among late baby boomers, and Generations X and Y. Housework is the only unpaid work activity selected since it makes up the bulk of all unpaid household work and, by necessity, many core activities such as meal preparation and clean-up, indoor cleaning and laundry are usually performed on a daily basis. Child care is an important topic but would require a separate, more in-depth analysis.
As shown, averaged over the population, time spent per day on paid work and housework for those aged 20 to 29 has remained relatively stable over the three generations. However, hidden in these averages are not only consistent differences between men and women, but also a reduction in the magnitude of these differences over time. In terms of the daily participation rate and average time spent, male and female differences in both paid work and housework have steadily declined from 1986 to 2010.
In 1986, on average, late baby boomer men did 1.4 hours more paid work per day than women, while the difference in paid work among Generation Y men and women stood at 1.1 hours in 2010 (Chart 1). In terms of housework, women aged 20 to 29 did 1.2 hours more per day than men in 1986, but only 0.4 hours more in 2010. It is noteworthy that time spent on housework by participants has also narrowed between men and women—due entirely to a decrease in the time women spend on housework. In 1986, among those who did some housework on Diary Day, women did 2 hours 25 minutes of housework and men 1 hour 31 minutes; in 2010, women did 1 hour 54 minutes and men 1 hour 34 minutes (data not shown).
Similar to the findings on paid work hours, men’s daily participation rate in paid work has also been consistently higher than women’s—but again, the extent of the difference has declined with each time period. For example, there was a 12 percentage point difference in the paid work participation rate of late baby boomer men and women in 1986, and an 8 percentage point difference for those of Generation Y in 2010 (Chart 2).
The narrowing of the gender gap in daily housework participation rates is the most noticeable. In 1986, 48% of late baby boomer men and 78% of women reported doing some housework on Diary Day; by 2010, 65% of Generation Y men of the same age range and 76% of women reported doing housework—a gap of 30 percentage points in 1986 and 11 percentage points in 2010.
Several factors can influence the degree of involvement in paid work and housework among young adults, including student and family status, having dependent children at home and living arrangements. Although more difficult to measure, cultural expectations and trends can also affect behaviour. In order to determine which factors are associated with time spent on paid work and housework, separate linear regression models were run for men and women from each generation.
Even though, as noted, the difference has narrowed over time, averaged over the population in 2010 young Generation Y men spent more time on paid work than women (4 hours 35 minutes per day versus 3 hours 32 minutes). However, many of the characteristics associated with the number of hours spent in paid work are the same for both men and women and are constant across the generations. For example, when controls for other factors were taken into account, students were found to do significantly less paid work than non-students—not a surprising finding since attending school is the main activity of students (Table 3). However, over time students have increased their participation in paid work on Diary Day, confirming other findings that show an increasing proportion of full-time students who combine school and employment.12
For Generation Y men and women, having more than a high school education had a significant positive influence on time spent on paid work. Having more education likely helped with finding or keeping a job during 2010—a recovery year in the economic cycle. During the 2008/2009 economic downturn, job loss was particularly high among youth and those with a high school education or less.13
It is noteworthy that the proportion of women aged 20 to 29 with more than a high school education has increased substantially. In 2010, 83% of Generation Y women had more than a high school education, compared with 56% of late baby boomer women in 1986 (data not shown). Women with higher levels of education have higher employment rates and are more likely to work full-time.14
Family-related variables had significant effects on women’s time spent on paid work in 1986, 1998 and 2010, but not on men’s. The paid work hours for married men with children tended to be higher than those for single men and married men without children, whereas the opposite was true for women. After controls for other factors were applied, married women with children from all generations did significantly fewer paid work hours than single women. Late baby boomer married women with no children did significantly less paid work than single women, but this was not the case for their Generation X and Y counterparts.
Generation Y mothers spent considerably less time per day at paid work (1 hour 33 minutes) than late baby boomers (2 hours 2 minutes) and Generation Xers (2 hours 20 minutes) even though, overall, the labour force participation rate of mothers with young children has increased steadily over the past two decades.15 The difference may be linked to dissimilar paid leave programs for the time periods and the incidence of having infants at home,16 thus increasing the chance of Generation Y women being on leave at the time of the survey. Generation Y women are entitled to up to one year of combined paid maternity and parental leave after birth, whereas when Generation X women were aged 20 to 29, only 6 months of paid maternity and parental leave were available, and for late baby boomer women it was only 4 months of paid maternity leave.
Similar to paid work, certain factors are associated with participation in and the average time spent on housework across generations for both men and women. Consistently, students and those who spent any time at a job on Diary Day did significantly less housework than non-students and those who did not do any paid work (Table 4). Generations X and Y men aged 25 to 29 did significantly more housework than those aged 20 to 24, as did those living on their own in 1986 and 2010.
On average, education level had less effect on men’s involvement in housework than women’s. After controls for other factors were taken into account, in 1986 and 2010 women with higher education did significantly less housework than women with a high school diploma. Although higher income households (associated with higher levels of education) are more likely to hire domestic help,17 this activity is not likely a factor in the differences found here. Only a small percentage of employed women aged 20 to 29 were in households that purchased cleaning services (7% in 2010).18
Compared with being single, marriage and children significantly increase the average time spent on housework for men from Generation X and women from all generations. Although not significantly different from those not in a couple, Generation Y married men, with and without children, spent similar time on housework to Generation X men. Overall, the difference in housework time between men and women in couples has become progressively smaller with each passing generation. For example, in 1986, late baby boomer married women without children did 1 hour 6 minutes more of housework work per day than married men without children, while, in 2010, Generation Y women did 19 minutes more than men.
But unlike paid work, there is an opposite trend for the average time spent on housework by sex, which shows increases in men’s involvement in housework by all personal and demographic characteristics, and a steady decrease in women’s. Averaged over the population, Generation Y men did 1 hour 1 minute of housework per day, which was up from 44 minutes for late baby boomers in 1986 and from 53 minutes for Generation X in 1998. Meanwhile, Generation Y women did 1 hour 26 minutes of housework per day, down from 1 hour 54 minutes for late baby boomers and 1 hour 47 minutes for Generation Xers.
Young men may be increasing their involvement in housework due to cultural expectations and socialization. Research has shown that married men who had grown up in households with an employed mother spend more time on housework than married men who did not have an employed mother.19 Furthermore, as noted previously, over the past two decades time spent on housework among teenage boys and girls has become more uniform.20
The reduced difference in the time spent on housework between young adult men and women may also be linked to the change in paid work hours within all families. Dual earners have been the dominant family form since the 1980s, but women continue to increase their proportional contribution of paid work within such couples.21 In tandem, as women have increased their hours of paid work, men have steadily increased their share of household work, which may, in turn, be changing attitudes towards the division of labour.
Among young adults from Generations X and Y, only a minority were part of a couple (Table 1) and an even smaller proportion were part of a dual-earner couple.22 However, the populations of dual earners are nonetheless large enough to broadly examine the overall spousal contribution of paid work and housework hours.
Most dual-earner men and women from Generations X and Y reported participating in paid work and housework on Diary Day. In 1998 and 2010, the participation rate in paid work ranged from 70% and 76% for both sexes (Chart 3). Since the participation rate was averaged over the week, the paid work rate was lower than that for housework since it is usually performed for a maximum of five days per week, while meal preparation or cleaning, for example, is often done daily. In both generations, women have a higher daily housework participation rate than men—with a 10 percentage point difference for Gen Xers in 1998 and a 14-point difference for Generation Y in 2010.23
In terms of average time spent on paid work, Generation X women in dual-earner couples did 6.4 hours per day in 1998 and Generation Y women did 6.7 hours in 2010 (Table 5). These 1998 and 2010 averages represent 48% and 47%, respectively, of the total paid work time done by couples and, compared with another GSS time use study, are proportionally higher than what dual-earner women aged 25 to 54 did in 1992 (45%) and 2005 (46%).24
On the other hand, women’s time spent on housework, relative to the total time done by the couple, has fallen. Dual-earner women from Generation Y did 53% of the total housework done by couples, down from 59% for dual-earner Generation X women. Again, these proportions were smaller than those for dual-earner women aged 25 to 54, who, in 2006, did 62% of the total housework done by the couple.25 However, similar to the findings for older dual-earner couples, when dependent children are present, women’s contribution to a couple’s total paid work time becomes smaller, while the proportional contribution to housework becomes larger.26
Major life events of young adults aged 20 to 29 are generally the same from one generation to the next, but the timing of events can change. Overall, compared with late baby boomers (born from 1957 to 1966) and those in Generation X (1969 to 1978), those in Generation Y (1981 to 1990) were the least likely to be married or living common-law and have children. Those in Generation Y were also the most likely to be still living at home with at least one parent. Also, both Generations X and Y were more likely to be attending school than late baby boomers.
Despite the socioeconomic changes in the characteristics of the three generations, participation in and time spent on paid work has remained relatively stable—with about 50% working at a job on any given day and spending between 8.5 and 8.8 hours at work. Contrary to this, involvement in daily housework has increased over time (70% in 2010) but the time spent on it has declined—from 2.1 hours per day in 1986 to 1.7 hours in 2010. This trend in housework is a result of an increase in the percentage of men participating in housework and a decrease in the time women spend on it.
For all generations, students spent significantly less time on paid work than non-students. Higher education was linked to more paid work for both men and women of Generation Y. Also, while children had no effect on men’s paid work time across the years, their presence significantly lowered the hours of paid work for women.
Factors associated with spending significantly less time on housework include being a student, doing paid work on Diary Day, and, for men, being younger and living at home with at least one parent. Also, being in a couple, with or without children, significantly increased time spent on housework for men from Generation X and women from all three generations.
Progressively, from late baby boomers to those in Generation Y, there has been an increasing similarity in young men’s and women’s involvement in paid work and housework. However, despite the narrowing of the differences, compared with women, men continue to have an overall greater involvement in paid work and a lesser involvement in housework. For example, among late baby boomers, men spent 1.4 hours more per day on paid work than women, while Generation Y men did 1.1 hours more; late baby boomer women did 1.2 hours more housework per day than men and Generation Y women did 0.4 hours more.
An examination of men and women aged 20 to 29 in dual-earner couples confirms the trend that spouses are increasingly sharing economic and domestic responsibilities. In 2010, dual-earner Generation Y women did 47% of couples’ total paid work and 53% of couples’ housework. However, also similar to past trends, dependent children at home tend to increase the division of labour within young dual-earner couples.
Katherine Marshall is a senior analyst with Labour Statistics Division at Statistics Canada.