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General Social Survey: Navigating family transitions

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The Daily

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A growing proportion of fathers have taken leave from work for the birth or adoption of a child since 2001, although they have been returning to work sooner than mothers, according to a new report.

The report, based on data from the 2006 General Social Survey (GSS), analyzes the supports and services families use during key transitions in their life, such as a having or adopting a child or going through a separation or a divorce.

While the proportion of women who took leave for a child's birth or adoption remained stable between 2001 and 2006, the proportion of men who did so increased. Most fathers returned to work within the month following the child's birth or adoption, well before mothers.

The vast majority (86%) of those parents who took leave from work for a child's birth or adoption reported that they were satisfied with their return to the job.

Nevertheless, women who return to work after maternity leave undergo far more stress than men who take similar time off. In fact, 6 out of every 10 mothers (62%) reported that the transition between leave and work was stressful. One-fifth described it as very stressful. On the other hand, most fathers (65%) rated the transition as not too stressful, or even not stressful at all.

GSS data showed that nearly half of parents cited balancing job and family responsibilities as the main source of stress associated with their return to work.

The report examined how two groups of people made key transitions in their lives. One consisted of people who had had a child, or had adopted one, in the five years prior to the survey. The other consisted of those who had had a separation or divorce.

In both cases, it explored the use of formal social support programs in aiding transitions. In the case of divorce or separation, it looked at the challenge of establishing parental care arrangements for children.

Over one-third of parents who had recently been separated or divorced when the survey was taken did not have agreements in place for child support or for residential custody. Among those who did, many worked out arrangements between themselves without lawyers, judges or other professionals.

The report found that, between 2001 and 2006, just under 2.0 million people went through a separation or divorce. About half left a marriage, while half left a common-law relationship. Moreover, 7 out of 10 faced these events for the first time.

Note to readers

This release is based on the report Navigating Family Transitions: Evidence from the General Social Survey, available today.

Between June and October 2006, the General Social Survey interviewed 23,608 people aged 15 or older living in a private household in the provinces.

The survey collected detailed data on various aspects of the family, namely the transitions experienced by respondents: leaving the parental home, marrying or entering into a common-law union, having or adopting children, moving or buying a home, and separating or getting divorced.

The survey also addressed important topics about the family, such as assistance and care provided to relatives as well as work-family balance.

These data reflect that, although common-law relationships are less frequent than marriages, representing only 17% of all couples in 2006, they have a higher rate of break-up. On average, the common-law unions that ended were of shorter duration than the marriages that ended.

Over 3 million had a child, or adopted one, since 2001

According to the report, more than 3.2 million Canadians aged 15 or over, about 12% of the total population, had a child, or adopted one, between 2001 and 2006. A little more than 9 out of 10 of these children were born or adopted into a two-parent family.

Two-thirds of all recent parents in both single and two-parent families received at least one type of formal service or support, such as parenting skills, breastfeeding support services, nutrition information and home care.

The report found that parents increasingly made use of formal services. In 2001, about 59% who had or adopted a child reported receiving some type of formal support. Five years later, this proportion had increased to 71%.

Just under half (48%) requested services related to breastfeeding, while about 44% sought help with questions about nutrition. Four-fifths of first-time parents sought help, compared with only about half of those who already had a child.

The GSS showed that 9 out of 10 Canadians who received such services rated the support as helpful.

Increase in the proportion of fathers taking leave from their job

Among respondents who were paid workers or self-employed before they had a child, or adopted one, between 2001 and 2006, two-thirds (65%) took a paid or unpaid leave from their job.

The vast majority of mothers, nearly 90%, took a leave of absence from work, a proportion that remained stable during the five-year period.

After government increased eligibility for benefits and extended parental leave in 2001 to 35 weeks, the proportion of fathers who took any kind of leave for the birth or adoption of their child, including parental leave, rose from 38% in 2001 to 55% five years later.

The more than one-third (35%) of parents who did not take leave, either paid or unpaid, from their job cited one or more reasons for not doing so. About 4 in 10 reported they could not afford it and 37% cited working conditions that did not allow them to take it.

Among men, factors related to finances, employment and career played a dominant role in the decision not to take leave. In fact, men were twice as likely as women to cite their financial situation as a reason.

More than three-quarters of parents returned to the labour force

Following a more or less prolonged leave of absence to care for a child between 2001 and 2006, more than 77% of parents returned to the labour market, the report found.

Most fathers returned to work in the month following the child's birth or adoption. Nearly half of mothers returned to work between 12 to 47 months following the child's arrival.

However, almost one-quarter (23%) of parents who took leave did not reintegrate into the labour market, the report found.

Among those who decided to stay at home, more than half (54%) said their decision was motivated by a desire to raise their child themselves. Many parents indicated that they stayed at home because of a subsequent pregnancy.

Nearly 24% of parents who did not return to work said it was for financial reasons, stating that child care services were too expensive to be worth the cost. These parents were likely to be working part-time and to have accumulated less seniority in their most recent job worked. About 8% of parents cited professional reasons.

Divorce and separation: Common law couples more likely to break up

Of the 2 million Canadians who ended a union between 2001 and 2006, just over half underwent a separation or divorce and just under half ended a common-law relationship. This was despite the fact that common-law relationships represented 17% of all couples in 2006.

Age is a factor for break-ups. Nearly 60% of persons who ended a common-law relationship did so before the age of 30, compared to only 12% of the divorced and 15% of persons separated from a marriage.

People in common-law relationships that ended between 2001 and 2006 had remained together for an average of 4.3 years. This was 10 years less than the average duration of 14.3 years for marriages that ended.

Majority of common-law partners do not use formal services during separation

The report found that an individual's use of formal services for separation and divorce varied substantially according to the type of union they were ending.

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of those who left a common-law relationship between 2001 and 2006 did not make use of any formal program or service during the breakup. This compares with only 31% of people who recently separated from a marriage, and 18% of those recently divorced.

More specifically, three-quarters (76%) of people who divorced used legal services, including lawyers, alternative dispute resolution such as mediation or conciliation, and family law information centres, compared with just 25% of individuals who left a common-law union.

In terms of social support services, 39% of people who divorced used some form of them, compared with 19% of individuals dissolving a common-law relationship.

People under the age of 30 were less likely to use services regardless of whether they were leaving a marriage or a common-law relationship. Only 3 in 10 used services of some kind compared to 7 in 10 people aged 30 and over. A somewhat greater proportion of women (60%) than men (53%) made use of legal, social or other services.

The report showed mixed results for parents as they tried to make arrangements for their children in the aftermath of a separation or divorce. While a majority had agreements for child support, residential custody, or major decision-making for children, 20% did not.

Among those who did have agreements, over one-third worked them out between themselves, without lawyers, judges or other professionals. Non-users were sometimes unaware of services, but among those who were aware, most (73%) declared that they did not need any. Others were prevented from finding solutions as a result of persistent conflict with their former partners or dealing with an absent or uninvolved parent.

Financial arrangements for children were the most likely to involve legal input, either from a lawyer or court services such as mediation, or from a hearing or a trial with a judge. Even so, 34% of financial support arrangements for children were based on verbal agreements or on written agreements made without legal counsel.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 4501.

The report General Social Survey Cycle 20: Family Transitions Survey : Navigating Family Transitions: Evidence from the General Social Survey (89-625-XWE2007002, free) is now available. From the Publications module of our website, under Free Internet publications, choose Families, households and housing.

An additional data product is released today. The report General Social Survey Cycle 20: Family Transitions Survey : Family Structure by Region (89-625-XWE2007001, free) is also available. From the Publications module of our website, under Free Internet publications, choose Families, households and housing.

For more information about these publications, contact Marcel Béchard (613-951-6115), Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division. For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact the Client Services and Dissemination Section (613-951-5979; fax: 613-951-4378;, Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division.