Feature Article – Gender Models for Family and Work

Roderic Beaujot
University of Western Ontario

Roderic Beaujot is professor of sociology at the University of Western Ontario, and principal investigator for a strategic research cluster on Population Change and Public Policy.


In The Gender Factory, Sarah Berk (1985) proposed that, through the allocations of domestic work, households and families are gender factories. Arlie Hochschild (1989) also proposed that families play significant roles in maintaining gender differences. In most of the households she studied, Hochschild found that the double burden belonged to women. Yet, 10 percent of her households were making deliberate attempts to divide unpaid work more equally. If the gender revolution involves women achieving equal opportunity, we could say that this has been achieved more outside of the household than in families. The feminist agenda has been to complete the gender revolution.

Changing Norms

In surveys with my undergraduate students, there is almost unanimity to say “both equally” in response to questions on how domestic work and child care should be shared in couples. For many, the norms have changed in the direction of sharing paid and unpaid work as a form of mutuality.

In Gender in Families, Scott Coltrane (1998) proposed that several factors push in the direction of men doing more domestic work. First, there is rising women’s income, and share of family income. Second, there are normative changes in the direction of equality and sharing, in contrast to family models based on dividing earning and caring along gender lines. Third, family changes, including later marriages, more cohabitation, and more remarriages, prompt alternate models of the division of work. By now, young men know that they need to share the burden if they want to enter a relationship, and it is not uncommon for women to abandon relationships that are not based on a sense of fairness in the division of work.

The models of marriage have changed. Gary Becker (1981) proposed that it was efficient for households to divide paid and unpaid work and that, at most, one person would spend time doing both market work and domestic work. Many have since seen this complementary-roles approach as a man’s view of efficiency, or they see more important goals in relationships, like mutuality and equality rather than efficiency. Valerie Oppenheimer (1988) proposed a “career entry” theory of marriage, where enduring relationships are formed once jobs are established. Once couples start out with two jobs, they are more likely to be oriented to also share the domestic work. Christiane Bernier and her colleagues (1996) saw women’s paid work as a “trump card” against their exploitation through domestic work.

Co-existing Models

In an American study, Shelly Lundberg and Elaine Rose (1998) found that, on average, women’s work time is reduced after the birth of a first child, and men’s average wage increases. Couples in which wives interrupted their careers for child rearing showed increased task specialization associated with childbirth, including a reallocation of time of both husband and wife, and declines in wages of wives. However, there was also evidence of the emergence of other patterns. Lundberg and Rose found significantly different patterns for couples in which the wife participated continuously in the labour market. In those cases, the mother’s wage rates did not decline while the hours worked by fathers declined after the birth of the first child. Furthermore, the wage differentiation on the birth of a first child was not as significant for younger cohorts. Thus, the increase in task specialization associated with childbirth was less applicable to younger cohorts and to the sub-sample of couples in which wives continuously participated in the labour force. As the model of continuous participation in the labour force becomes dominant, the authors predicted converging time-use patterns for husbands and wives and declining wage differentiation associated with parenthood.

Converging Employment Patterns but Parenthood Brings Divergence

The Canadian employment/population ratios have converged considerably between women and men. Men’s employment ratios have declined since 1981, and women’s have increased since 1971. Among the OECD countries, Canada is exceptional for the amount of change between 1960 and 1990 (Engelhardt and Prskawetz, 2004: 38). In 1960, with 32 percent of women in the labour force, Canada was among the countries with the lowest participation; in 2000, the rate of 71 percent put Canada in the group with the highest participation. At age group 15 to 24 in 2001, the employment/population ratio was identical for males and females, at 55 percent; however, at age groups 25 to 54, there remained a 10 to 11 percentage point difference.


By now, young men know that they need to share the burden if they want to enter a relationship, and it is not uncommon for women to abandon relationships that are not based on a sense of fairness in the division of work.


While the trends for women and men are converging, parenthood still has the opposite average effects, leading to divergent employment patterns for women and men. When they lived with children under 6 years of age, 90.5 percent of men in 2001 were working full time compared to 49.7 percent of women (Beaujot and Ravanera, 2005).

Similar results are shown in time use patterns. Compared to persons who are single, being in a relationship increases the unpaid work of women, but also of men, and the paid work of men (Beaujot and Liu, 2005). The presence of children especially differentiates women and men in terms of the proportion of total productive activity that occurs in the categories of paid and unpaid work. For instance, in 1998, married men under age 45 with children spent an average of 66 percent of their productive time in the market, compared to 35 percent for women in this category.

What Would It Take to Achieve Convergence in Paid Work Patterns of Women and Men?

Much change has occurred outside of families, but important differences remain in the division of family work. The norms appear to be changing in the right direction but, on average, parenthood still brings differentiation in the division of work. It is useful to reflect on the kinds of policy initiatives that could prompt further convergence.

Parental Leave

One might start with equal parental leave, or at least men taking a substantial part of the leave. Extending the leave from six months to a year has increased the leave time taken by women and it has, as well, increased the proportion of men taking leave. It seems that fathers are more likely to take leave if the mother takes eight months, and the father has benefits that top up the Employment Insurance benefits. To push this further, one might consider increasing the replacement rate on parental leaves, with a maximum of eight months leave per parent.

Benefits for Part-Time Work

Especially when children are under 3 years of age, there is considerable interest in working fewer hours. This could be supported by policies that would treat part-time workers the same as full-time workers, as currently occurs for Employment Insurance and Canada Pension Plan benefits. That is, regulations could prohibit discrimination against part-time work in terms of wage rates and benefits. One could even adopt policies like in Sweden to give parents the right to work part time when children are young, along with the right to go back to full-time work at any point. Further, one could subsidize part-time work when it involves a parent of a child under 3 years of age. To make this symmetrical, how about allowing each parent one year of such subsidy per child?

Removing Assumptions of the Breadwinner Model

As we opt for a society where there are fewer dependencies, and more equality between men and women, it is useful to take note of legal provisions that remain based on a traditional breadwinner model. This may apply to widowhood benefits, spousal allowance, pension splitting, and tax deductions for a dependent spouse. While these provisions are a means of accommodating dependency in couples, they can also promote dependency.

In Sweden, they have never had pension splitting, and they eliminated widowhood benefits for persons who married after 1989. Such changes would need to be grand-parented to accommodate those who lived their lives under the assumptions of the breadwinner model.

The income tax deduction for a dependent spouse makes sense when one spouse is not in the labour force, because of young children at home. But in other circumstances, why do we encourage dependency through this tax provision. For lone parents, we already have an “equivalent to married” deduction for the first child. How about using this for all parents, giving them a deduction for the first dependent child rather than for a dependent spouse? Of course, this change would only benefit two-parent families, and thus I would propose that the benefit be doubled for loneparent families.


The difficulties of work-life balance originate in the fact that change in some areas of life have not been matched by change in other areas. Peter McDonald (2000) proposed that fertility is particularly low in societies where women have equal opportunities in education and work, but where they carry an undue proportion of family work. For instance, Livia Olah (2003) found that women in Sweden are more likely to have a second child when their husband takes parental leave after the first birth. Eva Bernhardt (2005) proposed that low fertility is due, in part, to the unfinished gender revolution. The norms are changing in the direction of more symmetry in the division of work; we now need to make other changes that would encourage a better sharing of family work.


Quebec’s New Parental Insurance Scheme

The new Régime québécois d’assurance parentale (RQAP) (Quebec Parental Insurance Plan) came into effect on January 1, 2006. The RQAP provides for the payment of a financial benefit to every eligible worker – salaried and self-employed – who takes maternity leave, parental leave, paternity leave or adoption leave.

Two specific conditions must be met in order to qualify for benefits under the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan. The birth or adoption must take place on or before January 1, 2006. If they take place after this date, no benefits under the federal EI plan will be paid.

The RQAP offers the choice between a basic plan (longer but less money) and a specific plan (shorter but more money).

Basic Plan

  • Maternity and paternity leave benefits are paid for 18 and 5 weeks, respectively, at a rate of 70% of average weekly income.
  • Benefits for parental leave are paid for 7 weeks at 70% and for 25 weeks at 55%. With this option, a mother can receive benefits for up to 50 weeks.
  • Adoption leave benefits, which can be shared between the two parents, are paid for 12 weeks at 70% and for 25 weeks at 55%.

Specific Plan

  • Maternity and paternity leave benefits are paid for 15 and 3 weeks, respectively, at a rate of 75% of average weekly income.
  • Benefits for parental leave are paid for 25 weeks at 75%, i.e., a mother can receive benefits for up to 40 weeks.
  • Adoption leave benefits, which can be shared between the two parents, are paid for 28 weeks at 75%.

What’s More…

  • The RQAP does away with the two-week qualifying delay, so that the benefits begin as soon as the leave does. Maximum insurable income will go from $39,000 to $57,500.
  • The plan admits workers with at least $2000 in insurable income.
  • The new Quebec plan entitles fathers to a 3 or 5 week paternity leave with benefits, not transferable to the mother.
  • Employers, employees and self-employed workers must contribute to the plan.
Source: <www.rqap.gouv.qc.ca>.



Beaujot, Roderic, and Jianye Liu. 2005. “Models of Time Use in Paid and Unpaid Work.” Journal of Family Issues 26, no. 7: 924-946.

Beaujot, Roderic, and Zenaida Ravanera. 2005. “Family Models for Earning and Caring: Implications for Child Care. University of Western Ontario, Population Studies Centre, Discussion Paper 05-01. <www.ssc.uwo.ca/sociology/popstudies/ dp/dp0501.pdf>.

Becker, Gary S. 1981. A Treatise on the Family. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Berk, Sarah Fenstermaker. 1985. The Gender Factory: The Apportionment of Work in American Households. New York: Plenum.

Bernhardt, Eva. 2005. “No, We Should Not Worry about the Future of Europe’s Population.” Paper presented at meetings of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population, France, July 2005.

Bernier, Christiane, Simon Laflamme, and Run-Min Zhou. 1996. “Le travail domestique: tendances à la désexisation et à la complexifaction.Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 33, no. 1: 1-21.

Coltrane, Scott. 1998. Gender and Families. Thousand Oaks, Cal.: Pine Forge Press.

Engelhardt, Henriette, and Alexia Prskawetz. 2004. “On the Changing Correlation Between Fertility and Female Employment Over Space and Time.” European Journal of Population 20: 35-62.

Hochschild, Arlie Russell. 1989. The Second Shift. New York: Viking.

Lundberg, Shelly, and Elaine Rose. 1998. Parenthood and the Earnings of Married Men and Women. University of Washington: Seattle Population Research Center Working Paper, no. 98-9.

McDonald, Peter. 2000. “Gender Equity in Theories of Fertility.” Population and Development Review 26, no. 3: 427-439.

Olah, Livia. 2003. “Gendering Fertility: Second Births in Sweden and Hungary.” Population Research and Policy Review 22, no. 2: 171-200.

Oppenheimer, Valerie K. 1988. “A Theory of Marriage Timing.” American Journal of Sociology 94, no. 3: 563-91.