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April 2005
Vol. 6, no. 4

Perspectives on Labour and Income

Diverging trends in unionization
René Morissette, Grant Schellenberg and Anick Johnson

  • The proportion of unionized employees fell from 38% to 31% between 1981 and 2004. The decline, most of which took place between 1989 and 1998, was entirely due to trends in the commercial sector.
  • Overall, union coverage for men fell from 42% to 30% while coverage for women remained steady at 31%.
  • While the unionization rate of men aged 25 to 34 fell dramatically (from 43% in 1981 to 24% in 2004), the rate for women aged 45 to 64 rose 8 percentage points (from 32% to 40%).
  • Roughly one-third of the decline in young men's union coverage is due to their growing concentration in industries that typically have low unionization rates. Roughly 40% of the increase in union coverage for women 45 to 64 is associated with their growing tendency to be employed in high-coverage industries such as public services.
  • The drop in union coverage among young men has had important implications for their wages. Between 1981 and 1998, men aged 25 to 34 saw their average hourly wages drop 10%. About one-fifth of the decline was due to their reduced union coverage.

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René Morissette is with the Business and Labour Market Analysis Division; he can be reached at (613) 951-3608. Grant Schellenberg is with the Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division; he can be reached at (613) 951-9580. Anick Johnson is with the Input-Output Division; she can be reached at (613) 951-7211. All can be reached at

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