The Changing Face of Canadian Fatherhood: By the numbers

by John Hoffman

People have been writing about the “new” father for more than thirty years. But, apart from our perceptions and personal experiences, what can we really say we know about much fathers in general have really changed in past generation or two?

Oh, I have no doubt that Canadian fathers – what they do as parents and how they see their role as fathers – have changed. Mothers have changed. Families have changed. So obviously, dads must have changed too, or more to the point, the way men “do fathering” has changed. Statistics can tell some of the story. I’ve been following fatherhood statistics for many years. Here’s what I can tell you right off the bat. Compared to fathers of the 1960s today’s dads:

  • Are far more likely to be there when their children are born. In the 60s a dad at birth was usually an accident. These days, a father who misses the birth is very much the exception.
  • Spend more time with their kids (more hands on child care, more time off work for family reasons). It’s not that today’s dads have more time outside of their paid jobs. It’s just that more of them spend more of that non-work time doing things with their children.
  • Are more likely to take parental leave. Paternity leave did not exist in the 60s. Now more that half of Canadian dads take at least some time off (paid or unpaid) after the birth or adoption of a child.
  • Are more likely live apart from their children at some point in their fathering “career.” Separation, divorce, step families and single motherhood by choice have all increased substantially since the 60s, and with that comes the reality that more fathers do not live full-time with some of their biological children.
  • Are more likely to be gay and living in a two-dad household. Gay men of past generations tended to become fathers while in male-female relationships.

On the other hand, some things haven’t changed all that much.

  • Fathers still spend more time at their paid jobs than moms, even though far more mothers work outside the home now compared to the 1960s.
  • Fathers still tend to earn more money than mothers, although that gap has narrowed. About 3 in 10 of today’s women earn more than their partners.
  • Moms still do more child care and housework than dads, although this gap has narrowed too.

In honour of Father’s Day this year, the Vanier Institute of the Family created a cool new timeline called 50 Years of Men, Work and Family in Canada. The timeline uses statistics and trends to create a really interesting picture of the various ways in which Canadian fatherhood has evolved at various points in the past 50 years. Here are some highlights from that timeline.

  • Between 2000 and 2014 the number of Canadian dads who took parental leave jumped from 3% to 27%, thanks mostly to the introduction of “Daddy Days” in Quebec.
  • 1 in 5 same-sex parent couples in Canada is a male couple
  • Almost 10% of men living in a couple with children are stepfathers
  • 11% of all stay-home parents are fathers, compared to 1% in 1976

We’ve been through a slow revolution in fatherhood (and motherhood) in the past 50 years. I look forward to more evolution in the coming years as we move toward greater gender equity in families and workplaces.

To read more stats about the changes in fatherhood, download 50 Years of Men, Work and Family in Canada.

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