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Study: Time with the family

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The Daily

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Spending more time at work and less time with the family? You're not alone, according to a new study that examines the time Canadian workers spend with family members during a typical workday.

The study, published today in Canadian Social Trends, found that on average workers spent 45 minutes less with their family during workdays in 2005 than they did two decades earlier.

Based on a 260-day work year, that amounts to 195 hours less, or the equivalent of about five 40-hour work weeks.

The study was based on data from four cycles of the General Social Surveys on Time Use (1986, 1992, 1998 and 2005). Using a time journal, participants aged 15 and over provided detailed information on the amount of time they spent on various activities on a given day. For each activity, they indicated if they had been alone, or in the company of family members or other people.

For the purposes of this study, respondents had to have worked at least three hours on the "diary day", not including commuting time, and had to have lived with a spouse or at least one child.

The study showed that time spent with family members declined between 1986 and 2005 for most groups of workers. For example, in 1986 women spent an average of 248 minutes with their family members, while in 2005 they spent 209 minutes, a difference of 39 minutes during a typical working day.

For men, the average time fell by 45 minutes, from 250 minutes in 1986 to 205 in 2005.

The study said the main factor associated with the decline was an appreciable increase in time devoted to paid employment on a typical working day.

More time at work, less time with the family

Not surprisingly, the more time people spent at work, the less they spent with their family, according to the study. For example, workers who devoted between 9 and 10 hours a day to paid employment spent 52 minutes less with their families than those who devoted 7 to 8 hours.

Between 1986 and 2005, the average time devoted to paid employment during the typical workday, including lunch and coffee breaks, increased considerably. On average, Canadians worked 536 minutes, or 8.9 hours, during a typical workday in 2005, up from 506, or 8.4 hours, two decades earlier.

The proportion of workers who devoted long hours to their paid activities also increased. For example, in 1986, about 17% of workers devoted 10 hours or more to their work; by 2005, this had jumped to 25%.

This increase in the average length of the workday had major implications for the overall trends in average time spent with family.

The analysis showed that the increased time workers devoted to paid employment accounted for about 39% of the decline in time spent with family between 1986 and 2005.

This proportion was higher than for all other factors considered in the study. (These results provide no information about time spent with family during workers' leave days.)

Television watching and meal habits both factors in the decline in family time

The study pinpointed several other factors that had an impact on the decline in time spent with family members, the main ones being the fact that workers tend increasingly to watch television alone, eat alone, and spend less time on meals.

Both in 1986 and 2005, the more time workers spent watching television on a given day, the more time they spent with family (likely because they were in the company of family members).

However, workers' television viewing habits have changed considerably in the past two decades.

First, the average time they spent watching television declined from 95 minutes in 1986 to 79 minutes in 2005.

Secondly, when workers do watch television, they are more likely to watch it alone than in the past.

According to the study, almost one-quarter (24%) of the decline in the time spent with family can be explained by the fact that workers were more likely to have watched television alone during the day rather than with other family members.

The study also found that workers tend increasingly to eat alone when not at work. In 2005, 42% of workers had taken at least one meal alone, compared to 28% in 1986. This was the third most important factor accounting for the decline in average time spent with family between 1986 and 2005.

Other factors which accounted for the decline in time with family include more time occupied with personal care (including sleep), a decrease in the time devoted to having meals at home, and less time spent on social activities outside the home.

Family structure: Young female workers with children spend more time with family

The study identified other elements correlated with the time workers spend with their family.

Holding all other factors constant, the estimated time spent with family by workers with a child less than age five is significantly greater than that of workers living with a spouse but no children.

Lone parent workers with a young child spent the most time with family, about one hour more than workers living with a spouse only.

In contrast, lone parent workers with older children spent the least time with family. There is little surprise in this, since they have no spouse with whom to share their activities outside of work and their children probably have their own activities that they want to pursue alone or with friends.

Women's time with family is more affected than men's by the presence of young children in their household.

In fact, when young children are present, women spend significantly more time with family than do men (about three-quarters of an hour more).

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 4503.

The study "Time spent with family on a typical workday, 1986 to 2005" is now available in the February 2007 issue of Canadian Social Trends, Vol. 83 (11-008-XWE, free) from the Publications module of our website.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services (613-951-5979;, Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division.