Study: Generational change in paid and unpaid work

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The timing of major events in the life of young adults in their twenties has changed from generation to generation during the past quarter century, and so has the involvement of men and women in paid work and housework.

This study compares the young adulthood years of three generations: the late baby boomers (born 1957 to 1966) when they were aged 20 to 29 in 1986, Generation X (1969 to 1978) who was in that age group in 1998, and Generation Y (1981 to 1990) who reached it in 2010.

It found that, at ages 20 to 29, members of Generation Y were more likely to be in school and at home with their parents than their counterparts in the two other generations.

At ages 20 to 29, 51% of Generation Y lived at home with their parents, compared with 31% of their counterparts in Generation X.

Generation Y also delayed living with a partner and having children. At ages 20 to 29, 19% of Generation Y had children, compared with 29% of the late baby boomers of the same ages in 1986.

The study also found an increasing similarity in the involvement in paid work and housework between men and women from the late baby boomers to those in Generation Y.

Despite the narrowing of the differences, men continue to have an overall greater involvement in paid work than women, and a lesser involvement in housework.

For example, at ages 20 to 29, late baby boom men did on average 1.4 hours more paid work per day than women. In Generation Y, this difference had narrowed to 1.1 hours.

Late baby boom women, when they were aged 20 to 29, did 1.2 hours more housework per day than men. By the time Generation Y arrived at the same age group, the difference had narrowed to 0.4 hours. This was due entirely to a decrease in the time women spent on housework.

When looking only at dual-earner couples, the dominant family form since the 1980s, the study found that young adults are increasingly sharing economic and domestic responsibilities. As women have increased their hours of paid work, men have steadily increased their share of household work.

Women aged 20 to 29 in dual-earner couples in Generation Y did an average of 6.7 hours of paid work per day in 2010, up from 6.4 hours for their counterparts in Generation X.

On the other hand, dual-earner women in Generation Y did 53% of total housework done by couples, down from 59% for their counterparts in Generation X.

Average daily time spent on paid work and housework by men and women in young dual-earner couples is more similar for those without children and particularly so for Generation Y.

However, for both Generation X and Y, with the presence of dependent children at home the contribution of women to a couple's total paid work time declined, while their contribution to housework increased.

Note: This study used time use data from three cycles of the General Social Survey: 1986, 1998 and 2010. Each cycle was used to examine changes in the participation in, and time spent on, paid work and unpaid household work of three generations: late baby boomers, Generation X and Generation Y at the ages of 20 to 29.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 4503.

The article "Generational change in paid and unpaid work" is now available in the July 2011 online issue of Canadian Social Trends, no. 92 (11-008-X, free), available from the Key resource module of our website under Publications.

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.