Addicted to novelty since 2001

Canada’s Men Aren’t Getting Enough Daylight

Because I’m self-employed, and disinclined to work much in the early afternoon, I often go for walks around my urban neighbourhood. In descending order of frequency, these are the sort of people I see while out and about:

  • Female seniors
  • Male seniors
  • Mothers and their young children
  • Work-age women
  • Work-age men

With the exception of my brother and nephew, I don’t think I’ve seen a single father-and-child out walking or on a playground during work hours. If I have, they represent less than 1% of the parents I see.

In 80% of Canadian families, women do at least ‘most’ of the childcare work. Apparently this percentage doesn’t change even when women are working in the paid labour market.[more]

Isn’t everybody getting screwed here? The mothers, though approaching equality in the workplace, still must do all the work in the home. On the other hand, fathers apparently aren’t getting and/or taking the opportunity to raise their children. As far as I can tell, the only winners in this setup are the young, stay-at-home moms I see, who are apparently only caring for one or two children. Of course, they’re not even winners if they want to work but their husbands want them to stay home. I know I’m not factoring in the 50% of married couples who get divorced, but let’s ignore single parenthood for now.

Among the young, childless couples I know, the women are unanimous in their intent to be the primary caregiver. This pattern follows among the couples with children, in all but one case. That one, outlying sample is the only rational one I’ve observed. Each parent works 2.5 days, and the other cares for their child. Now, of course, you’ve got to be well-employed and be frugal to make this work, but they’re both. They also seem to split the housework fifty-fifty.

So what’s the conclusion? Why don’t I see more fathers on my afternoon walks? There are several possibilities:

  • While women have become much more empowered in the workplace, men are not enjoying the same opportunities in the home.
  • Men do not want to be the primary caregiver, and would prefer to work.
  • It makes better economic sense for the father to work, as he can earn more money.

I imagine that it’s some of each. If I were a father, though, I think I’d worry that I was missing a lot of my kid’s development.

18 Responses to “Canada’s Men Aren’t Getting Enough Daylight”

  1. Andrea

    As someone who will be a stay-at-home mom any minute right now, I can tell you my experience.

    1. The major medical associations favour exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months’ of a child’s life, followed by solids and breastmilk for at least the next six months. Although it’s possible to pump milk and have the father stay home, it’s a lot easier for the mother to do it — no worries about cleaning/sterilizing bottles, managing flow, heating, freezing, etc.

    2. Maternity leave last 15 weeks (assuming you are not self-employed and therefore ineligible. Grrr.). After that, either the mother or the father can take up to 35 weeks of parental leave. Given that 15 weeks is not a long time (especially if you stopped working ahead of labour), a lot of new mothers want to stay home for a longer period, especially if they want to breastfeed.

    3. Many women earn less than their child’s father, especially if they have made concessions to manage pregnancy conditions. Faced with living on one partner’s income, many couple opt for the higher income.

    4. Women are the fastest growing group of people starting small businesses. Since most small businesses are home-based, these women may have flexible work schedules, allowing them to go out during the day.

    Also, when they say women do 80% of work in the home, I wonder how this work is classified. Does the survey only ask about cleaning, cooking and shopping? What about painting, drywalling, plumbing, car repair, lawn mowing, calling contractors, etc? I bet many people don’t think of this as work in the home.

    That being said, I’m very thankful for a husband who does 50% of work in the home — and who has taken on 90% these past 40 weeks.

  2. Rob Barac

    Point 1:
    Darren I could not agree more about men being scarce during working hours.

    While I was freelancing I lived in Bronte, a beachside suburb of Sydney Australia, the only people I would see during the daylight hours on the beach were superfit bankers wives and unemployed actors and models.

    Not a 30ish employable man in sight.

    Point 2:
    One of the reasons Anne-Renee and I moved back to Canada was the great maternity/paternity leave available to people here.

    We are expecting our first child in July and she will be taking 1 year off. Back home she would’ve only been entitled to 8 weeks and I only 1 week.

    That said, I am only taking 4 weeks when the baby is born.

  3. donna

    Andrea: One thing about “mens work” vs. “womens work” that you mention (say, painting vs. cooking) is that cooking is a “must be done right now” activity, and it repeats frequently. Painting, on the other hand, is a “when it’s convenient” activity, and rarely repeats.

    When one things of housework, you’re right — we usually think of things like cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. But that’s because they happen much more frequently than the drywalling, the mechanical work, the painting, etc. Even minor maintenance that crops up in all homes tends to be a “when it’s convenient” chore, rather than a “the kids are screaming and need to eat.”

    Through both research (via my womens studies classes) & observation, it seems that before children, housework tends to be fairly evenly split in most couples. After children… everything goes all to hell, and more work falls to the woman. Even if the man is doing the same amount of housework that he was doing before, the sheer volume of housework required has gone up exponentially.

    My parents have a fairly interesting arrangement. They both work full time, and my sister is not in daycare — they both work shift work, and work opposite to each other’s shifts. So there’s always someone home with the kid (save for 4 hours on Monday nights when my best friend babysits.)

    My mother’s husband does the same chores he did before my sister came along — cleaning up after dinner, etc — but my mother does the lions share of the childcare when she’s home. My sister is three now, and has started taking all sorts of interesting classes (preschool, dance, swimming, etc) and they’re all scheduled during times that my mother is home, not her husband. So even though they both work at least 40 hours a week (my mother also makes slightly more — within a few thousand/year — than her husband) Mom still ends up with more work.

    This is pretty standard.

    Stay-at-home Mom’s don’t necessarily have it all that easy either — raising kids is *hard*, even if you don’t work. I know a few SAHM’s who have been asked by well-meaning non-parents… “So what do you do all day?” Yagh. What a question. What DON’T they do all day…

    Funny thing: You rarely hear men asking about how they’re going to balance a career with having children. :) Everyone who says that women have come so far… well, we haven’t come THAT far. Once the kids show up, we may as well be in the 50’s. Except with a *two* jobs — Mom & Career… that’s hard.

    Anyhoo. That was somewhat rambly. The concept of “The Second Shift” is quite interesting, though… even though I have no intention of ever having children. I LIKE my free time, damnit.

  4. Darren

    Thanks for your comments, everybody.

    Donna: This is a very hot potato, but here it goes. I regularly hear that raising a child is difficult, but I’ve never seen any quantifiable stats on it. How difficult is it? More to the point, what’s it worth? How does it compare, to say, a nurse or a lawyer or a construction worker? I’m not arguing that it’s less than any of these–I’d just like to see something less anecdotal.

    It’s funny that you mention the fifties, because I was thinking of them as well. There are two important differences between today’s parents and fifties parents:

    a) Child-rearing and housework are much easier. Think appliances, cell phones, second cars, stain-resistant fabrics, television–the list goes on and on.

    b) People are having less than half the children they had in 1950.

    If childcare is work today, it must have been slavery back in the fifties.

  5. Andrea

    Whoa! I’m not suggesting that the work is balanced. I was just wondering if anyone has ever looked at all the time spent on work that we might not think of as housework. Such work is probably much more flexible, but I wonder how many hours it represents each week. It never occurred to me to classify this as men’s work or women’s work. However, I wonder if men do bear a bigger workload in house, appliance and car upkeep. My curiousity may be because I grew up in a working class neighbourhood, where most people did all the work themselves and had homes and cars that constantly needed major work just to keep them going. An overflowing hot water heater or a broken-down car can be things that need to be done right now. (Although I bet the work is appreciated more than the drudgery of day-to-day housework and childcare.)

  6. Joe

    Based on a professional to raise your child, aka nanny/housekeeper $11cdn/hr. A professional cook $8-12cdn/hr. The math remains an exercise for the student. BTW the value I place on my child’s upbringing far exceeds dollars and cents.

  7. Derek

    I had quite a different experience when my daughters were young. I was the stay-at-home dad primary caregiver, and at the time my wife had our one car when she went to work, so I spent a lot of time walking around with a front-pack or stroller (or both, for a time) the Metrotown area in Burnaby, where I live.

    There are _tons_ of dads with kids in the daytime around here. Not as many as moms, but certainly a significant percentage. Perhaps Yaletown is demographically skewed differently.

    In any case, I’m in that minority where my wife and I now work alternating days so the other one can be home with the kids (who are now in preschool and grade 1). I’m not all that good at housework, but I do it: laundry (not as much as I should to keep up), tidying, vacuuming, dishes, beds, etc. I get up in the morning and get the oldest to school. She re-tiled the tub, but I painted the laundry room floor. My wife and I don’t do the same things, but I think we have a pretty good split here in the house.

    Really it only takes practice and the willpower to get away from the blog and do some actual work around here.

    But parenting is hard, whether it’s one kid or twelve. Vicki Iovine’s limited but excellent “Girlfriends’ Guide” books put it correctly: two kids is more than twice as hard as one. Apparently, she writes, three is more than three times as hard as one too, but four is slightly less than four times as hard. I have no experience there, but beyond that, the older kids start being in a position to help.

    The key thing about having children is that you’re always on alert, even when you’re somewhere else. You never really relax the way you did before they were born. But there are myriad rewards to make up for that.

  8. Julie

    Okay, I can’t resist tossing in my two cents and sharing my perspective…

    Before Ted and I married, we agreed that we wanted to homeschool our children (or at least try it). From where each of our lives were back then, it made more sense for me to plan to stay at home. I have been happy to do it. I haven’t been employed since my first daughter was born almost seven years ago. It’s a choice we’ve made as a family, a choice that has made other decisions for us.

    In terms of trying to quantify what it is like to take care of children, here’s what I can say from my experience. I worked in two fields before I became a mother. I did medical research and I also worked at a charity which helped homeless people. Motherhood requires the intensity of my medical research work in both mental and physical energy. Motherhood also requires at least as much emotional energy as the counseling I did at the charity. I am nonstop from 8 am to 9 pm with the kids (hence my late night weblog posts) and I am on call 24 hours a day.

    Even if I wanted to pay someone to care for my kids I don’t know if I could afford it, especially now that I have three. For us it makes more financial sense for me to stay at home.

    My husband works from home so he sees the kids more than he would if he commuted. Many dads on the island where we live don’t see their kids during the week due to the ferry ride combined with the long work day. Ted is able to have lunch and dinner with his daughters, and from time to time he comes out of the office to help me. However he has not take them outside during the weekday. :-) Although I spend more time with the girls during the day, Ted and I share the responsibility, spending time each night talking about our family together.

    Comparing now to the fifties, I’m not sure it is easier now than then. I have three kids which is the same size of both my mom’s and my dad’s families, so perhaps I’m not having half the children. So maybe I’m disqualified from commenting. :-) I’m not sure though that cell phones and appliances make it easier (ah but the stain free carpet has been wonderful!). Standards for parenting have changed. For example, there are issues that my children have had, that probably wouldn’t have been noticed in the fifties but I have had to monitor carefully and work with my children in their development in these areas. We are probably much more aware and concerned of the implications of every aspect of childhood development and the role parents play in their children’s growth. Although I try to evaluate and sift through the expectations I feel, from Martha Stewartsainthood to SuperMommy’s cape, and we as a family are trying to take a different path, yet parenting still takes all I’ve got to give in a day, more than any job I had.

    What drew me into this post originally were your observations, Darren, of whom you see outside during the day. I too have been concerned. I try to take my kids outside and play soccer or help them ride bikes every day in the late morning. However I rarely even see other moms playing sports with their kids, or anyone else at all outside. On the weekends I do see some dads going around the block or supervising at the playground. But I wonder whether part of the problem is that people don’t often go outside to play with their children any more.

  9. Julie

    Victoria has tons of dads taking a bigger role in staying at home and raising their kids. My partner works part-time for IBM and I work full-time at the legislature, so he’s the one who hangs out more at the park/playground. His afternoons during the week are spent out and about with our 1 1/2 year old. Maybe James Bay/Fairfield is skewed towards more of these types, but there are quite the number of Baby Bjorn-wearing, bike-trailer pulling, stroller pushing daddies in my neighbourhood.

  10. Paolo

    I’m really not sure where all this is going but here are my two cents:

    On the 14th of this month I will officially be a stay-at-home dad. My daughter is 10 months and I intend to take her out often for *ahem* fresh air. But living in Montreal, we experience savage winters so I couldn’t rely on observational powers to tell me whether there are or aren’t stay-at-home dads because pretty much everyone stays indoors around here.

    The bottom line is that there *are* changes going on in regards to which parent stays at home, how much work load each carries, and so forth. Just look at advertising, books, TV shows, to understand how the demographic has changed. It used to be that soap operas dominated daytime TV. Not anymore!

    The only thing that I notice that hasn’t changed much is the secret shame I feel for being a dad who won’t be out there bringing home the bread and butter. I shouldn’t be so petty but it does affect me.

    The simple reality for me is that half of me wants to be out there making lots of money and “being the man,” while the other half is very greatful for having the opportunity to stay at home with my daughter. So I’m going to assume that if other stay-at-home dads feel as I do, maybe that contributes to why you don’t see them outside for everyone to see.

  11. Kai Jones

    It’s not true that it’s *easier* to raise kids now, despite cell phones and stainfree fabrics. That’s just ignorant. In the 1950s it was common to turn your school age kids outside for the day, with minimal supervision. They learned a lot and they also got into a lot of trouble. Also remember that a lot of those housewives were depressed and were either self-treating with alcohol or put on amphetamines by their doctors. (Being alone at home with small children is difficult and draining.) They were also expected to be in the classrooms as room parents (helpers) and to do volunteer work.

    By contrast these days all parents (including working parents) are expected to fully schedule kids’ free time with lessons and clubs and sports, all of which require at least some supervision (my kids never went to a practice or a game without a parent).

    This is quite typical of society’s reaction to technology. When a new invention is supposed to free women from drudgery, what happens instead is that the standards get raised. Clothes washers didn’t make the weekly laundry easier, it meant we were all expected to have perfectly clean clothes every single day instead of putting on yesterday’s clothes and having one set of Sunday best.

  12. Darren

    Kai: What you’ve got there are anecdotes and expectations. What I’ve got are statistics:

    Birth rate in Canada:
    1950: 3.7, 2000: 1.58

    Clearly, raising a family is easier now because there are fewer than half the number of children per family than there were in 1950.

    Cell phone sales in the US:
    1987: 5.4 million, 2003: 63.2 million

    I use cell phones here as a stand-in for any appliance in the home. I wasn’t able to locate any reliable stats on appliance penetration since 1950, but I think we can all agree that more people have more labour-saving appliances.

    North America’s standard of living has improved tremendously over the past 50 years. This has obviously lessened parental tasks, whether it be washing dishes or coordinating to pick up the kids.

    Another fact for which I couldn’t find a reliable source is cars per family. Unquestionably, the number of cars per family has at least doubled in the past 50 years.

    These are just a few factors that have contributed to the simplification of parenting over the past 50 years.

    When you’ve got some empirical evidence that supports your opinion, I’d like to hear it.

  13. Kai Jones

    There may well be fewer children per home, but your statistic doesn’t prove it. You’re just showing birth rates without comparing childless families versus families with children. To figure number of children per family, look at, which shows statistics for Canada for 2001. I figure 1.8 children per family (of families with children). At you find that as long ago as 1971 the average family (which includes families with no children) included 3.7 members, which dropped to 3.0 members by 2000.

    None of this proves fewer children per family-with-children.

    At it is apparent that single parent families are more likely to have two or more children in the home than two-parent families. Which still proves nothing, as I can’t find Canadian census results in a form that would let me compare number of children per family from 1950 and 2001 (or similar dates).

    This information is available for the US, however, and I don’t think it’s too far a reach to assume that Canadian rates would be similar. At (pdf) you can see that in 1955 the average US family was 3.59, and the average number of children (under 18) in families was 1.3. In 2001 the comparable figures were 3.14 and 0.96, respectively. So we’re talking about a difference of a child or two, not half as many children per family (unless you have built an argument out of the difference between 2-child families and 3-child ones).

  14. Darren

    Kai: If you check out that last link (, the difference in children per household (as opposed to family) is 1.14 in 1950 and 0.66 in 2003–that’s very nearly half.

    Regardless, there’s no denying that there are siginficantly fewer children per parent today than there were in the fifties. Fewer children = easier parenting.

    Are you still calling this perspective ignorant?

  15. Kai Jones

    The difference in difficulty of parenting (or, really, amount of work) between one child and two children is not significant. You implied a larger difference, which I could accept if family sizes had gone from 6 or more children to 3 or fewer. And I argue that parenting is more difficult because more is expected in the way of enrichment: most parents are expected to produce college graduates (which leads to more lessons–music, dance, art, gymnastics; more emphasis on getting into good primary and secondary schools, and taking college prep classes; more community involvement in volunteer work and clubs like Scouting, so your college application resume looks good), which was not the case in the 50s; most parents are expected to have their kids in a sports league instead of letting the kids play pick-up games on the neighborhood empty lot. And so on.

  16. Darren

    Kai: Have you got some evidence to support your claim that “the difference in difficulty of parenting (or, really, amount of work) between one child and two children is not significant.”

    Earlier in this thread, Derek cites an author who states “two kids is more than twice as hard as one.” It’s only logical to conclude that two children are twice (or, if not twice, then nearly twice) as much work as one.

  17. Stephanie

    How many studies have been done on this subject? How can you expect science to prove raising children was more difficult/easier/the same in the 50s versus now when there appear to be few or no studies on this topic?

    I have an idea.

    Darren, ask a family with two or three children to let you look after their children for say one weekend or one week.

    After that do the same experiment but look after one child.

    Then report back on how it went. Of course to do a truly scientific experiment you need what, 1,000 samples or something.

    I believe the challenges are different for parents raising one child or several. Expectations were different in the 1950s so I’ll speak about challenges today.

    I don’t have scientific data to back me up but I think common sense predicts that if a family is raising an only child, that child will demand, maybe even depend on their parents for entertainment and attention. Parents with two children or more find themselves mediating conflicts between children, negotiating the attention they give each child individually and adapting to different stages of child development.

    The basics – feeding, clothing, housing, taking your child to the doctor, to a hospital, to school, to extracurricular activities, vacation, camp, co-parenting, money issues, housework etc. are pretty much the same across the board. There are variables. For instance, a child’s temperament and how it meshes with a parent’s temperament definitely plays a role.

    Of course it costs more to have more children. Some costs are lower – you may not have to buy new baby gear or clothing, new Tupperware for your toddler or you get a discount on camp fees but overall you’ll pay out and do more housework, chauffering etc. with more kids.

    I can attest as a single parent that raising one child is a lot of (rewarding) work. I’d write it down for you if I had the time.

  18. Kai Jones

    I can only give my anecdotal experience to support my assertion. I’ve spent a lot of time raising singletons (both as an auxiliary and as the mother of one for 4 years) and then raising two kids. My experience is that it is not that much more difficult to have two than one–nothing like the jump from zero to one. You’ve got all the stuff, your life is already arranged around kids, and you’re more confident of your parenting skills (having honed them on the older child).

    Trying to imagine life with, say, four or more kids (and I know a family or two with that kid count), I am intimidated by how much harder it would be to balance all those children’s needs and schedules against the limited resources parents have. With two kids and two parents the ratio is still one to one: one parent can give full attention to one kid, if necessary.

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