A Look at Families with Children and Two Incomes

July 21, 2015
Denise Mullen

Between 1976 and 2014 the absolute number of families in Canada with a child under age 16 declined by 15%[2] but the number of couple families with at least one child under 16 stayed the same at 2.8 million. However, over the same period the number of two working-person families with at least one child under the age of 16 almost doubled and they now represent 69% of couple families. As a result, there are now 1.0 million more Canadian families with both parents in the labour market. (Note: this data does not include does not include information on dual income same-sex couples with children under 16.)

Among the dual income families, 75% of the parents work full time. Families with one stay at home parent now represent less than 20% of all couple families. Of course, most of these new earners are women (Figure 1), resulting in more men choosing to be the primary child care provider – 11% today versus only 2% in 1976.

As always, there are differences among provinces (Figure 2), but all are fairly close in terms of the proportion of families with two earning parents. Saskatchewan and Quebec have the largest proportions of families with both parents in the labour force (74% and 73%, respectively). British Columbia, at 68%, and Alberta at 65%, are at the other end of the spectrum. Overall, dual income families with children would be an even bigger percentage of total families were it not for child care costs, which are a major expense and sometimes present a dilemma in terms of the opportunity costs of pursing a second income.

In 2014, there were more than twice as many lone parent working families (700,000, or 1 in 5 families) as in 1976 (300,000, or 1 in 10 families). Of single parent families headed by women, 69% are working full time, up from 48% in 1976. Of those headed by men, 82% work full time and there has been no change since 1976. Parents who are in school, on parental leave, not working or unable to work are not included in the definition.

Dual income families with dependent children are now very common in Canada. Increasingly it is a social expectation that both partners in a family will be able to build their own careers. The dramatic gains in educational attainment among women have reinforced this trend. With demographic changes and labour market constraints, we can expect to see an ever increasing number of dual income families.

[2] Statistics Canada, Table 282-0211 Labour force survey estimates (LFS), by family type and family age composition, annual.

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