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In the household, food preparation, purchasing, and clean up are some of the primary forms of unpaid labour. When I did my exploration of what food I ate for one week, one of my areas of interest was the distribution of food-related labor. In the case of my household, I tell myself it's because of my demanding school schedule that my partner performs more of the food prep, grocery buying, and dishes. But ultimately I've wondered if we're just part of a wider occurrence. 

After my initial exploration of food-related unpaid labour in Canada, I was actually surprised to see that it was more equitable than I had expected. While women still performed a higher portion of work in all categories, I was curious why I thought they would be even more disparate. While I've lived in Canada for nearly one third of my life now, I grew up in the United States, and I wondered if differences between the culture I grew up in and the one I'm in now could be related to my surprise. In this expansion of my previous data story, I looked at revised views of my exploration of Canadian food related labour as well as a comparison between Canada and the US.

For Canada, taking a look at data from both 1986 and 2015, we can see the change over time of food related labor between men and women in households. Taking a look at actual time spent doing food labour at home, time by the minute gives us a chance to highlight the difference between time and gender in execution. While there is a general decrease of time spent purchasing food and other household services, time spent at meal preparation increased for both men and women. Even with this increase, there is a sizable difference between the time spent, with women investing over 80% more time than men during both time periods in meal prep.

Household labour distribution and employment from 2015 gives us an opportunity to see how time taking care of the household is spent when either men or women in the household are employed. Regardless of employment, women still perform more household labour even if they are fully employed within a typical schedule. It's worth noting that the gap increases vastly under self employment or unpaid family work. This could be due to the fact that it's more common for women to hold the responsibility for unpaid housework while their partner operates as the sole earner. However, part of the gap could come when women's self-employment takes place in the home, where they might still have a higher expectation to take care of unpaid labour during their work day, as evidenced by their higher time investment across all categories.

Data collected during the pandemic gives us a glimpse into how our current unprecedented context has influenced food labour distribution. While this data benefits from the inclusion of consideration for reporting of sharing household tasks, the gap between men and women's investment is still apparent. Cleaning dishes is by far the most balanced chore, while meal prep remains the most contrasting with just under 50% of the task performed by women to just over 15% by men. While this dataset benefits from further data on shared labour, it demonstrates still how even in our current unique context food labour falls disproportionately on women in households.

My curiosity about how my country of birth compared to my country of residence was certainly sated when exploring data in comparison, but for more reasons than I initially hoped for. First and most strikingly, I was surprised by the sheer difference in time spent on activities between Canada and the US. At first I was worried I'd miscalculated something, but the data seems to have been translated correctly. The StatsCan data is in minutes per day, while the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) data was in hours per week, but when translated into the same units, the average time spent on unpaid labour were close enough that it wasn't a problem of mismatched units. 

Reconciling two different datasets can be difficult. StatsCan's dataset was much more limited and the ATUS data had many more sub-categories. ATUS included information for adults regardless of children, but since the StatsCan data was for parents I elected to use the ATUS chart for parents of one or more children. Looking at the numbers, especially in meal preparation, I feel that I can see a bit of where my expectation had comes from. The difference in minutes spent on meal prep between men and women is much larger in the US than in Canada. While the US data is from 2003-07 and the Canada data from 2015, I think they still represent fair depictions of each country's contemporary context. 


After my initial exploration of food related labour in Canada, I wasn't surprised to see that women still took on a higher amount of work when compared to men. I was however surprised the gap wasn't larger. Having now compared Canada and the United States, I feel I've found some basis for my thinking that the gap would be larger. In the US, men certainly spend less time than women contributing towards food-related labour in the home, but the big surprise when considering comparison is just how much less time Americans spend on food prep and purchasing than Canadians. 

A note on households of LGBTQ+ Canadians

From the data from Statistics Canada where my two primary sources come from, neither made any attempt at inclusion of same-sex households, marriages or common-law relationships containing trans or non-binary partners, or any other consideration for LGBTQ+ people in their presented data. Of the two sources—on the change in parents' participation in domestic tasks from 1986 to 2015, and the sharing of household tasks during the COVID-19 pandemic—only the later lists a footnote to mention their exclusion and that they represented 0.9% of the Canadian Population as of the survey. Certainly in Canada there is much effort made of corporations to profit when events like Pride happen each year, and yet it is worth mentioning that data for LGBTQ+ people is often not gathered or not considered within spaces they also inhabit like this one. That said, the information shown here and the broader information in the data about household labour and the apparent inequality of labour distribution between men and women demonstrates the importance of gathering and communicating this information for what are ultimately the most common household contexts in Canada. 

I leave the above section in this new take on my last data story because I think it's still an important consideration. After looking at US data however, I'll also note how much more potentially inclusive that set was. For an accurate comparison to the Canadian data, I had to use information on households with children instead of just adults by gender. Even so, there wasn't any note indicating that it couldn't have also included same sex couples with children. The ATUS survey data also had data specific to adults outside of families which is likely to have covered a more inclusive population than the Canadian data which was almost exclusively concerning cis-gendered heterosexual couples. 

Data Sources and Process

Canadian data for this data story come from two Statistics Canada sources, Changes in parents’ participation in domestic tasks and care for children from 1986 to 2015 by Patricia Houle, Martin Turcotte and Michael Wendt and Sharing household tasks: Teaming up during the COVID-19 pandemic by Clémence Zossou

US data for this story come from the 2003-07 American Time Use Survey (ATUS) as explored in the July 2009 Monthly Labor Review by Rachewn Krantz-Kent

Process work, with further data exploration, can be found here.

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