Introduction – Work and Life Balance – Better Choice, Flexibility and Policy Opportunities

As in other OECD countries, there is a debate in Canada on how to better reconcile work and other aspects of life. This debate results from the important economic and social changes of recent decades. With globalization and rapid technological advances, more is demanded of workers. At the same time, the normative family has changed from a one-earner to a two-earner model, with more diverse living arrangements. And, as we have identified in a previous issue of Horizons on population aging (2004, Volume 6 Number 2), the future will bring more pressures on prime-age workers, because of the coming retirement of baby boomers.

There is evidence that many people feel under pressure during the hectic “rush hour of life,” when children, education, and work lay competing claims on limited time. All too often, these tensions bring stress to an appreciable segment of the population. In some cases, they lead to increased absenteeism, missed opportunities for advancement, mental health problems, even withdrawal from the labour market. Part of the problem lies in our institutional arrangements, which were designed to accommodate the traditional family and life-cycle pattern: education for the young, then working careers (especially for men), followed by retirement. It may be necessary to review these institutional arrangements carefully so they better reflect the “new” contemporary Canadian society, to address successfully the new economic, social, and demographic challenges.

The important social and economic changes of an aging society have been examined in the PRI’s Population Aging and Life-Course Flexibility project. Encouraging Choice in Work and Retirement outlined the likely economic, fiscal, labour market, and social impacts associated with an aging population as well as the potential economic and social gains which could derive from more flexibility of choice regarding how time is allocated among work, family responsibilities, leisure and learning throughout the life course. In this edition of Horizons, we discuss the current state of knowledge on the work-life allocation of time and related consequences, and highlight some of the policy strategies adopted in other countries in addressing similar challenges.

This issue also features several contributions touching on issues related to work-life balance in a context of population aging, from federal departments (Human Resources and Social Development, Status of Women Canada, Health Canada, and Statistics Canada), as well an academic perspective from Roderic Beaujot of the University of Western Ontario. We thank them all for their contributions, and hope this issue will provide useful background and insights for researchers and policy analysts.


Jean-Pierre Voyer
Executive Director