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November 2004
Vol. 5, no. 11

Perspectives on Labour and Income

Employment trends in nursing
Wendy Pyper

  • According to the Labour Force Survey, the number of employed registered nurses (RNs) increased 17% between 1987 and 2003, while licensed practical nurses (LPNs) declined almost 40%. In sharp contrast, employment of unregulated nurse aides and orderlies (NAOs) more than doubled. Accounting for population growth, the per capita ratio for RNs actually declined. The drop was more pronounced for LPNs—from 291 per 100,000 people in 1987 to 155 by 2003. At the same time, the ratio for NAOs doubled from 300 to roughly 600 per 100,000.
  • In 1987, 21% of patient-care workers were NAOs; by 2003, this had increased to 39%. RNs declined from 59% to 52%, while LPNs declined from 21% to just 10%.
  • More RNs had a university degree in 2003 than in 1990, both at the baccalaureate and master's levels. Education levels also rose for NAOs—31% had a high school diploma or less in 2003, compared with 47% in 1990.
  • Part-time employment rates were higher for the regulated nursing occupations than for the general working population. Roughly one-third of employed nurses worked part time in 2003, compared with just 19% of all workers. The vast majority (82%) of RNs who worked part time chose this arrangement.
  • Hourly earnings were substantially higher for RNs than for LPNs, but LPNs earned more than NAOs. In real terms, hourly earnings for RNs increased roughly 9% between 1997 and 2003, declined for LPNs, and remained fairly constant for NAOs.
  • Over the period from 1999 to 2001, RNs and LPNs had higher rates of coverage in insurance and retirement plans than the general working population or NAOs.

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Wendy Pyper is with Labour and Household Surveys Analysis Division. She can be reached at (613) 951-0381 or

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