Knowledge Center

Working Parents

Data and sources for Canada, Global, and United States


Single-Parent Households Increasing and Family Size Decreasing1 


From  20062011 changes in family structure include:

  • Married couples remained the most common family structure (67%), although it has decreased.2

  • Common-law couples were the most rapidly increasing family structure (increase of 13.9%). 3

  • Single-parent households increased by 8.0%, with the greatest increase seen among single-parent households headed by men. Despite this, women still head eight out of 10 single-parent families.4

  • Same-sex married couples almost tripled, and the number of same-sex-common-law couples grew 15%, which was higher than opposite-sex-common-law couples.5

  • The gap continues to widen between couples with children at home (39.2%) and couples without children (44.5%).6

Mothers Participation Rate in Canadian Workforce Has Nearly Doubled7


The participation rate of working mothers has increased from 39% in 1976 to almost 73% in 2009.8

  • The percentage of mothers working with children under 3-years-old has increased 133% from 1976 (27.6%) to 2009 (64.4%).9

  • Single mothers are less likely to be employed than mothers living in a two-parent household. 10




Nearly Half of All Households in OECD* Countries Include Children11
  • In Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United States, this proportion is somewhat lower where childless households represent approximately two-thirds of all households.12

Women Do at Least Double the Unpaid Work as Men13


More Women Work When Longer Paid Leaves Are Available14
  • Maternity leave is available in 167 countries with leaves taken averaging 106 days.15
  • Paternity leave is available in 86 countries with leaves averaging 7 days.16
Family Composition is Changing Around the World

In Australia 83% of all households are couples, of which 43% have dependents.17

  • Of all households, 15% are single-parent families of which women head 84%. 18

In China, 72% of women aged 25–34 with children younger than 6-years-old work (10.9% lower than childless women in the same age group).19

In India, over  300,000 children benefited from sanctioned Creches (preschool education, supplementary nutrition, and recreation that benefits children of working mothers) in 2014 (down from 792,950 in 2009).20

  • With the lowest divorce rate in the world, work-life balance issues related to single-parent households were low. However, the divorce rate in India is expected to increase significantly.21

  • In 2006, 82.7% of all children in India lived in a two-parent household, with another 8.5% living in a single-parent household headed by their mother.22

  1. In Japan, nearly half (43.9%) of all women who gave birth to their first child between 2005 and 2009 left the paid workforce.23
  • Of those, 26.1% of women wanted to continue to work but found barriers to managing work and childcare.24


United States

Most American Workers Have Family Caregiving Responsibilities25 

The majority of American women between the ages of 15 and 50 are mothers.26

  • Almost 70% of all women in 2015 with children under 18 were in the labor force.27

  • In 2015, mothers of younger children were less likely to be in the labor force. Only 58.1% of mothers with infants, compared to 74.4% of mothers with older children (between 6-17 years old), were in the labor force. 28

  •  Working full time is the ideal situation, according to 32% of working mothers compared to 20% in 2007.29  
  •  More than 40% of mothers in 2014 were the primary breadwinners for households.30 

More than half of fathers believe that caregiving should be a shared responsibility, yet only 30% reported they feel caregiving is actually divided equally between parents.31

  • In 2015, 92.7% of men with children under 18 were in the labor force. 32
  • Among families with working mothers of preschool children, one in five fathers were the primary caregiver. 33 

By far, the most common arrangement today is for married parents in dual-income families with children under 18 to work.34

  • In 2015, employed married mothers in the labor force  = 67.6%.35

  • In 2015, employed married fathers in the labor force = 93.7%.36

​ Almost 84% of single-parent households with children under 18 in 2014 were headed by mothers.37

  • In 2014, 69.4% of single mothers were employed.38
All Industrialized Nations Except the United States Offer Paid Parental Leave39


Only California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island offer paid family medical leave following childbirth or adoption40

Number of Companies Providing Paid Paternity Leave is Increasing.41
  • Companies offering paid paternity leave have increased from 12% in 2010 to 17% in 2015.42

  • In spite of policies, men are reluctant to make use of unpaid paternity leave.43

    •  86% of fathers reported they would not use paternity leave unless at least 70% of their salaries were paid.44


Pregnancy-Related Discrimination Is Illegal in the United States45


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides enforcement guidelines regarding discrimination against pregnant women and employees with caregiving responsibilities.46

  • In 2014, the EEOC received 3,400 complaints of pregnancy-based discrimination. 47​​

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects job security  during leave taken for an employee’s pregnancy and childbirth or the care of a newly born, adopted, or fostered child. Individuals who work for employers with at least 50 employees, work at least 1,250 hours per year, and have worked at least 12 months for their current employer are guaranteed up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually.48

  • ​​​The number of companies offering paid maternity leave increased from 17% in 2010 to 21% in 2015.49

Family Responsibility Discrimination, or FRD, is a form of employment discrimination against employees due to their family caregiving responsibilities for children, elderly parents, or ill relatives.50

  •  FRD claims increased more than 400% between 1998 and 2008. 51​ ​

Mothers and Fathers Equally Report Difficulties Balancing Work and Family Life 52 

56% of mothers find work-life balance challenging compared to 50% men.53

American businesses lose $3 billion annually due to absenteeism related to family caregiving issues.54

The 2015 Benefits Survey from the Society for Human Resource Management reported no significant increases in the number of companies offering family friendly benefits.55

  •  Childcare benefits are an important driver in recruiting and retaining talented working parents. While 22% of  companies allow parents to bring children to work in an emergency situation, costlier benefits such as access to backup childcare services remains rare at just 4% of companies surveyed.56
  • Of companies surveyed in 2015, 19% offered family leave beyond the 12 weeks provided for under FMLA, down from 26% in 2013.57



​Additional Resources

Boston College, Center for Work And Family, "Fathers" (2015). 

US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Characteristics of Families Summary 2015 (2016).

ILO, "Where Do Mothers Get More Leave?" (2014).

ILO, "Maternity and Paternity at Work: Law and Practice Across the World" (2014).

Pew Research Center, Social and Demographic Trends, "Modern Parenthood," Social and Demographic Trends (2013).

Working Mother Research Institute, “[email protected]: The Working Mother Report” (2015). . 

Institute for Women's Policy Research, "Workplace Flexibility."


* OECD = Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development



How to cite this product: Catalyst. Quick Take: Working Parents. New York: Catalyst, April 20, 2016.