Families in Canada: Parents Making It Work (September 2018 Update)

In February 2018, a new “use-it-or-lose-it” parental leave option for new parents was announced as part of the 2018 Federal Budget, which would give parents in Canada (including adoptive parents) five additional weeks if they’ve opted for the traditional 12-month parental leave, or eight weeks under the new 18-month leave option. While initially set to take effect in June 2019, the federal government has announced that the rollout date has been moved to March 17, 2019, which means an estimated 24,000 more parents could have access to the parental benefit.

To provide context about the evolving work-family environment in which this story develops, the Vanier Institute of the Family has compiled related data and recent statistics about work, family and modern parenthood in Canada.

Below you can find up-to-date information and data about new and expectant parents in Canada and the evolving social and economic contexts that shape – and are shaped by – family life.

New Dads and Family Relationships

  • In 2016, 30% of all recent fathers across Canada reported that they took or intended to take parental leave, up from 3% in 2000.1, 2
    • Much of the increase in the national rate is due to the large increase in fathers taking leave in Quebec following the introduction of the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP) in 2006.
      • In 2016, 80% of Quebec dads reported that they claimed or intended to claim parental leave, up from 28% in 2005.3
      • Outside Quebec, the share of recent dads who claimed or intended to claim parental leave increased from 11% to 13% over the same period.4, 5
  • In 2015–2016, 14% of parental benefits claims made were by men.6
  • A 2015 study found a “large and persistent impact” on gender dynamics in the three-year period following Quebec fathers’ use of paternity leave.7
    • Fathers who took leave were found to be more likely to do housework (and spend 23% more time doing this work).
    • Mothers were found to be more likely to engage in paid work. Under QPIP, Quebec dads also spent an average half-hour more per day at the family home than those outside of Quebec.
  • A recent Statistics Canada study found that in 2015, 41% of surveyed fathers in Quebec reported having participated in cleaning, laundry and other housework that day, higher than in other regions across Canada, which ranged from 25% to 35%.8

Women, Work and Family

  • In August 2018, the labour force participation rate of women aged 25 to 54 was approximately 84%, a steady increase from only 52% in 1976.9
  • In 2016, the labour force participation rate of mothers whose youngest child was under 6 was 73%, up from 36% in 1976.10
  • In 2015, 69% of couple families with children had two earners, up from 36% in 1976.11
  • An estimated 85% of all parental claims in Canada are made by women.12


  • In 2016, the average age of first-time mothers in Canada was 29.2 years, up from 25.6 years in 1986.13
  • In 2016, the total fertility rate in Canada was 1.54 children per woman, down from 1.59 in 1986.14
  • In 2016, the fertility rate among women aged 35 to 39 was 56.0 per 1,000 women, nearly double the rate in 2001 (35.7 per 1,000 women).15


Learn more about the diversity of families in Canada:

If you would like to book an interview with Vanier Institute CEO Nora Spinks, please contact [email protected].


Published on February 26, 2018

Updated on September 28, 2018



  1. Statistics Canada, “Employment Insurance Coverage Survey, 2016,” The Daily (December 15, 2016). Link: http://bit.ly/2CD3nIw.
  2. Katherine Marshall, “Fathers’ Use of Paid Parental Leave,” Perspectives on Labour and Income, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 75-001-X (June 2008). Link: http://bit.ly/1UgSdfz.
  3. Statistics Canada, “Employment Insurance Coverage Survey, 2016.”
  4. Ibid.
  5. Katherine Marshall, “Fathers’ Use of Paid Parental Leave.” 
  6. Employment and Social Development Canada, New five-week parental sharing to start in March 2019 (September 26, 2018). Link: https://bit.ly/2IjElP6.
  7. Ankita Patnaik, “‘Daddy’s Home!’ Increasing Men’s Use of Paternity Leave,” briefing paper prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families (April 2, 2015). Link: http://bit.ly/1Igwa0Y.
  8. Patricia Houle, Martin Turcotte and Michael Wendt, “Changes in Parents’ Participation in Domestic Tasks and Care for Children from 1986 to 2015,” Spotlight on Canadians: Results from the General Social Survey, Statistics Canada catalogue no.89-652-X (June 1, 2017). Link: http://bit.ly/2rJ4AZL.
  9. Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey Estimates (LFS), by Sex and Detailed Age Group (CANSIM Table 282-0002) (page last updated September 28, 2018). Link: http://bit.ly/2p38FWs.
  10. Canadian Institute of Child Health, “Module 8, Section 2: Labour Force Participation Rate,” The Health of Canada’s Children and Youth: A CICH Profile (2018). Link: http://bit.ly/2oq4xyZ.
  11. Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey Estimates (LFS), by Sex and Detailed Age Group.
  12. Employment and Social Development Canada, New five-week parental sharing to start in March 2019.
  13. Claudine Provencher et al., “Fertility: Overview, 2012 to 2016,” Report on the Demographic Situation in Canada, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 91-209-X (June 5, 2018). Link: http://bit.ly/2Dy5cIs.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.

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