Statistics Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Study: Changes in parental work time and earnings

Warning View the most recent version.

Archived Content

Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please "contact us" to request a format other than those available.

1980 to 2005

Between 1980 and 2005, the time parents spent on the job rose substantially for families with children, mostly because of the rising labour market participation of mothers.

During this period, the proportion of families with two parents working on a full-time, full-year basis more than doubled from 15% to 32%.

Single-parent families, particularly single mothers, also increased their work time by substantial margins. Over that period, the proportion of single mothers with a full-time and full-year schedule rose from 43% to 51%.

The article "Changes in parental work time and earnings" uses census data to examine changes in parental work hours among families with children. Families were categorized into low, medium and high earnings groups. Parents with low earnings were defined as those with less than two-thirds (or less than 66%) of the national median in any census year. Parents with high earnings were defined as earning more than four-thirds (or more than 133%) of the median. The median was $70,100 among two-parent families in 2005.

Two-parent families in all earnings groups saw increases in their work time but increases were greatest in the low and middle earnings groups. For example, the proportion of parents working full year and full time in the middle earnings group (comprising families who earned between $46,700 and $93,400 in 2005) tripled over the period, from 11% to 32%.

Single parents with low earnings also recorded significant increases in their work hours, especially lone mothers. Between 1980 and 2005, the proportion of single mothers with low earnings working on a full-year and full-time basis rose from 8% to 20%.

The study also examines the extent to which the rise in parental work time translated into higher annual earnings for families. Increases in earnings were divided into two parts: the part due to increases in parental work time, and the part due to increases in rates of pay.

Among two-parent families, increases in parental work time accounted for nearly one-half (45%) of the overall growth in earnings, with low and middle earnings families contributing more than two-thirds.

The rest of the growth (55%) was due to an increase in rates of pay, in large part because of rising wages among top earnings families. This helps explain the growing gap between top and bottom earnings families documented in other studies.

Among single mothers, increasing work hours contributed to one-third of the overall increase in annual earnings. These gains were mostly associated with the rising work hours of single mothers with low earnings.

Conversely, because single fathers increased their work time by much smaller amounts, most of the changes in their annual earnings were driven by changing rates of pay.

Note: This article used census data for the years 1981, 1991, 2001 and 2006 to study changes in parental work hours among families with children under 16 years of age. The census provides detailed information on family work patterns and income for the year preceding the census year. Changes in work hours were assessed by combining the number of weeks worked with work status, that is, full-time or part-time. "Rates of pay" refers to the average earnings within fixed categories of work time: full year, full time; part year, full time; etc.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 3901.

The article "Changes in parental work time and earnings" is now available in the October 2009 online edition of Perspectives on Labour and Income, vol. 10, no. 10 (75-001-X, free), from the Publications module of our website.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this article, contact Sébastien LaRochelle-Côté (613-951-0803;, Labour and Household Surveys Analysis Division.