Gender equality in early family formation

Jessica Ball, MPH, PhD
Jessica Pratezina, PhD (Cand)

Families Canada
Dad Central Ontario

Project background

Women in mother/father partnerships continue to carry an unequal burden of childcare, housework, and family management responsibilities, despite slow movement towards change. This problem has been amplified during the COVID 19 pandemic. When lockdowns closed schools and childcare centres, mothers significantly increased their time spent in childcare, supervising homeschooling, and orchestrating family activities. During the pandemic, Canadian mothers left the labour force in far greater numbers than fathers, halting their wage earning, career progression, and work satisfaction. While fathers have also increased time spent doing childcare and housework, they have not kept up with mothers nor faced the same negative impacts on labour force participation, careers, mental and physical health, and relationship satisfaction.

Despite the long-standing and recently exacerbated imbalance in division of domestic labour, few policies, programs, or social media outlets call on fathers to take a more active role as a way of reducing the harmful consequences for mothers. As Canada moves to rebuild in a post-COVID society, addressing this inequality has become a national priority. Gender equality is one of the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals to which Canada aspires.

Gender equality and close relationships has been a long-standing focus of Jessica Ball’s scholarship: she completed her doctoral research on mothers’ and fathers’ accounts of their problem-solving interactions on the topic of division of domestic labour. The pandemic has provided an opportunity to see just how little has changed in male-female co-parenting arrangements in the intervening decades, providing impetus for a return to this research topic with a focus on avenues for social change.

Project goal

Alongside community partner Families Canada, the research team is working to create, distribute, and evaluate a podcast mini-series: It’s About Time! To date, investments in positive father involvement have not been seen as a strategy to increase gender equality in early family formation. Most parenting support funds go towards programs that are attended by mothers, and perhaps by default, are also designed for women. Pre- and post-natal programs epitomize the exclusion of fathers. These programs guide mothers through the transition into parenthood while at the same time exempting and excluding fathers from both these supports and responsibilities.

The exclusion of fathers in conversations about their children perpetuates the widespread sense that men are not as capable, interested, or important as parents. Yet, surveys of Canadian fathers tell a different story – of men who are keen to be actively involved from the start of their child’s life and who want to do things differently than earlier generations of fathers.

Our podcast series features the stories of diverse, mother-father co-parents who have used the pandemic as an opportunity to divide up childcare, household, and homeschooling tasks more equitably. Exploring the potential of digital storytelling as a tool for personal and social change, the It’s About Time! project highlights division of housework and childcare as a matter of women’s equality. The podcast series aims to support Canadian couples to have constructive conversations about a longstanding family and social problem that has been made much worse due to school and childcare closures during the pandemic. The series is offered as an online tool for counsellors working with couples and family support workers.
It's about time logo


Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Partner Engage, COVID-19 Special Project Initiative


View all reports and resources related to this project.