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Families, time and well-being

Inequality of well-being among families with children is increasing at an even faster rate than income inequality, according to a new study by Peter Burton and Shelley Phipps, "Families, Time, and Well-Being in Canada." They find that total family working hours have increased for most families, but not for those at the top of the income spectrum who have been receiving the largest gains in income.

"We study changes in time and money available to families with children from 1971 to 2006. Increases in incomes at the top of the Canadian income distribution since the mid-1990s have taken place without any significant increases in total family hours of paid work. On the other hand, for families in the middle of the income distribution, family income has stagnated, despite the fact that parents jointly supply significantly higher hours of paid work. If both time and money are valuable resources for the production of well-being for family members, these findings suggest that inequality in well-being has increased even more than inequality of income."

Between 1994 and 2006, the average real family income of parents with children in the top 10 per cent rose by 40.3 per cent, compared to 18.9 per cent for those in the middle decile. Meanwhile, average family hours of weekly paid work rose from 61.6 to 67.9 hours for the middle decile, but fell from 76.7 to 74.4 hours for those in the top 10 per cent.

It is not only families in the middle who have been working more paid hours, but also those in the bottom income groups. The norm of two earner families with children has shifted decisively down the income scale.

The authors find that subjective feelings of stress due to too many demands and too little time have also shifted down the income scale as most families put in more hours of paid work, and have less time to spend with their children and in other activities.

(The study is in Canadian Public Policy 37 (3), September 2011, pages 395-423, which you have to buy but can be found here.)

This article was first posted on The Progressive Economics Forum.

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