The double-lives of married women

Before the Great Depression single women tended to work in the paid labour force while married women worked primarily in the household. Although a sexist division of labour this meant both men and women lead single lives: you either worked outside or inside the home. World War II brought many married women in Canada into the paid labour force for the first time. They began to lead double-lives: taking care of the family, while simultaneously participating in the paid labour force. After the war, men returned to once again take up a single life in the public sphere. At home they could relax and enjoy themselves and do a few household chores. Ever since a growing proportion of women lead double-lives.

Initially this issue did not draw a lot of attention. Men still dominated the workplace and politics, while many women felt empowered by their new role outside the home. The women’s movement in the 1960’s raised the profile of this issue, starting a debate over wages for housework.

Still, popular culture and the mass media advocated the double-life. Advertisements such as the infamous “Enjolie Perfume for Women” that aired in the 1980’s sold the double-life as something to be desired. A combination of these ideals led to a small drop in female housework from the 1960’s to 2000, but the growing rate of female participation in the labour force continued to strengthen the issue. As this graph showing the evolution the evolution in Atlantic Canada clearly shows:

So where is the double-life trend headed today? Fortunately, more Canadians are becoming aware of the issue. Belief that housework ought to be shared if both partners participate in the labour force is growing. Unfortunately, recognition and action are not the same. Women still do approximately two-thirds of all housework. The progress that is being made is slow. A 2011 Statistics Canada study conducted by Katherine Marshall  shows that younger men are slowly stepping up to complete housework tasks, such as grocery shopping, while women are doing fewer daily hours of housework than previous generations. Generation Y (1980’s – 2000) is thus the closest ever to equal overall division of housework.

Graph comparing the division of labour within young couples over three generations.

With our beliefs changing our actions may soon catch up, but progress is slow and difficult to obtain. Women are no longer solely responsible for housework, although they still do most of it. The time of the double-life of married women in Canada is coming to a very slow but steady end as public awareness and equality take a firmer hold on Canada.

Brett Keeping

Suggested Reading:

The leading authority in the field is Marilyn Waring (see Resources) and there is our case study exploring the broader issue of unpaid labour. Also very useful is “Women & Unpaid Work.” Women & The Economy: A Project of UNPAC. by the United Nations Platform for Action Committee. Web.


Angelini, Paul. Our Society: Human Diversity in Canada. 4th ed. Toronto: Nelson Education, 2011. 217 – 237.

CanWest Media. “Gender roles around the house are changing Men taking on more household chores.” 2008.

Marshall, Katherine. Canada. Statistics Canada.Generational change in paid and unpaid work. Ottawa: , 2011. Web.

PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women.”Women and Unpaid Work – Milestones in Canada.”. Web.

Statistics Canada. Daily: Women in Canada: Paid Work. Ottawa: , 2010. Web.

Statistics Canada. Census of Canada Labour Market Activity and Unpaid Work Reference Guide. 2006, Web


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