Insights on Canadian Society
Women in scientific occupations in Canada

by Dominique Dionne-Simard, Diane Galarneau and Sébastien LaRochelle-Côté

Release date: June 24, 2016 Correction date: (if required)

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Overview of the study

This article provides information on women aged 25 to 64 in natural and applied sciences occupations in Canada (i.e. scientific occupations), using data from the 1991 and 2001 censuses and the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS). The employment conditions of men and women in these occupations are also examined, based on data from the Labour Force Survey (LFS).

  • From 1991 to 2011, the proportion of women in scientific occupations requiring a university education rose from 18% to 23%, and from 14% to 21% in scientific occupations requiring a college education.
  • During the same period, the proportion of women in non-scientific occupations requiring a university education increased from 59% to 65%, and from 41% to 44% in non-scientific occupations requiring a college education.
  • Between 1991 and 2011, women accounted for 27% of the growth in the number of workers in university-level scientific occupations, but for 75% of the growth in the number of workers in university-level non-scientific occupations.
  • Computer science accounted for 60% of the increase in the number of workers in scientific occupations requiring a university education. The smaller contribution of women to the overall increase in the number of scientific workers is related to the fact that they accounted for a smaller share of workers in computer science occupations.
  • Workers in scientific occupations generally have better employment conditions. On average, men working full-time earned 9% more than their female counterparts in both scientific and non-scientific occupations.

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Introduction

Despite significant progress in education and labour force participation, women remain underrepresented in occupations in natural and applied sciences, which pay relatively higher wages on average, and are overrepresented in occupations in elementary and secondary education and health care—which, in comparison, pay relatively lower wages. Although the wage gap between men and women has been closing over time,Note 1 field of study is a factor that might explain part of the remaining wage gap,Note 2 along with other differences such as hours worked, number of years of experience and presence of children.

The underrepresentation of women in scientific occupations is itself partly due to their low participation in fields of study related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) despite efforts to attract them. According to the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), women accounted for 33% of STEM university graduates, but almost two-thirds of graduates in non-STEM fields.Note 3 Accordingly, the proportions of women in scientific occupations remained significantly lower than in other occupations, especially among those that normally require a university degree.

Given the above, this article has three major objectives. The first is to track the proportion of women in natural and applied sciences occupations (“scientific” occupations) and in other occupations (“non-scientific” occupations) over the past two decades, separately for occupations normally requiring a university education and those that require a college education—on the basis of data from the 1991 and 2001 censuses and the 2011 NHS (see Data sources, methods and definitions).

The second objective is to examine the extent to which women contributed to the increase in the number of workers in scientific occupations normally requiring a university education over the period, including the role played by key factors such as age and immigration.

Lastly, the article uses Labour Force Survey data to examine differences in employment conditions between employees in scientific fields and those in other fields, specifically among workers in occupations normally requiring a university degree. The article focuses on persons aged 25 to 64 who were employed at the time of data collection.

The share of women increased in most scientific occupations, except in computer science

Among workers aged 25 to 64, the proportion of women in scientific occupations rose from 18% in 1991 to 23% in 2011 for occupations requiring a university education, and from 14% to 21% for occupations requiring a college-level education. The increase mainly took place between 1991 and 2001 for university-level scientific occupations (Chart 1).

Chart 1 Percentage of women in scientific and non-scientific occupations, by skill level, 1991 to 2011

Data table for Chart 1
Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1 1991, 2001 and 2011, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  1991 2001 2011
percent
Scientific occupations University level 18.1 22.2 22.7
College level 14.1 17.2 21.4
Non-scientific occupations University level 58.8 62.2 65.0
College level 41.3 43.6 44.5

By comparison, in non-scientific occupations, the proportion of women was significantly higher in 1991 and continued to increase over the next two decades, rising from 59% to 65% in university-level occupations and from 41% to 44% in college-level occupations.

Among workers who held a university-level scientific occupation in 2011, the highest proportion of women was found among those who were in mathematics, statistics and actuarial science, with 50%—up from 38% in 1991 (Chart 2). The proportion of women grew in most university-level occupations, particularly in life sciences where the proportion almost doubled (from 23% in 1991 to 43% in 2011).

Chart 2 Percentage of women in university-level scientific occupations, by occupational category, 1991 to 2011

Data table for Chart 2
Data table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 2 1991, 2001 and 2011, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  1991 2001 2011
percent
All scientific occupations 18.1 22.2 22.7
Physical sciences 18.1 27.4 31.0
Life sciences 23.2 32.7 42.5
Civil, mechanical, electrical and chemical engineering 5.5 9.1 13.0
Other engineering 8.0 12.8 14.1
Architecture, urban planning and land surveying 16.9 20.3 28.0
Mathematics, statistics and actuarial science 38.4 40.6 49.6
Computer science 29.7 28.5 24.7

The proportion of women also increased in architecture, from 17% to 28%. The proportion of women in the two engineering groups (13% and 14% in 2011) remained the lowest of all fields in 2011, even though the proportions doubled in 20 years.

The group of occupations related to computer science was the only category to see a decline over the 20 year period, from 30% in 1991 to 25% in 2011. Most of the decline occurred between 2001 and 2011.

In college-level occupations, the share of women increased in all occupational categories (Chart 3). In 1991, some scientific occupations already stood out for their relatively high proportions of women, including those in physical sciences (notably chemistry), where women accounted for 31% of workers (42% in 2011). Within college-level scientific occupations, physical sciences had the highest proportion of women in 2011, followed by life sciences (38%, up from 22% in 1991). Within life sciences, the proportion of women was particularly higher in biology.

Chart 3 Percentage of women in college-level scientific occupations, by occupational category, 1991 to 2011

Data table for Chart 3
Data table for Chart 3
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 3 1991, 2001 and 2011, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  1991 2001 2011
percent
All scientific occupations 14.1 17.2 21.4
Physical sciences 31.1 37.7 42.1
Life sciences 21.6 27.5 37.6
Civil, mechanical and industrial engineering 9.1 13.1 15.3
Electronic and electrical engineering 7.4 8.3 8.6
Architecture, drafting and land surveying 19.6 23.3 28.5
Other technical inspectors and regulatory officers 11.9 18.7 25.4
Transportation officers and controllers 5.5 8.0 9.3

College-level occupations related to architecture (particularly drafting technologists) and technical inspectors and regulatory officers (especially public health inspectors) also recorded a significant increase in the number of female workers. The proportion of women in these groups increased from 20% to 29% and from 12% to 25%, respectively.

In comparison, college-level occupations in both engineering categories had relatively small proportions of women, with little change in the past 20 years. The proportion of women in these occupations was 15% or less in 1991, 2001 and 2011.

Women contributed less to the increase in the number of workers in scientific occupations requiring a university education

This section examines the extent to which women contributed to the overall growth in the number of workers in scientific occupations from 1991 to 2011. During this period, the number of university-level scientific workers more than doubled as it increased by 304,000 people. The increase in the number of college-level scientific workers was smaller at 87,000 (an increase of 34%).

Within university-level occupations, women accounted for 27% of the total growth in the number of scientific workers between 1991 and 2011, which suggests that men accounted for almost three-quarters of the growth (Chart 4). It was the opposite among those with non-scientific occupations, as women accounted for 75% of the growth in the number of workers between 1991 and 2011.

Chart 4 Increase in the number of workers aged 25 to 64 in scientific and non-scientific occupations from 1991 to 2011, by skill level

Data table for Chart 4
Data table for Chart 4
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 4 Women and Men, calculated using thousands units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  Women Men
thousands
University level Scientific occupations 83.1 221.0
Non-scientific occupations 615.8 204.0
College level Scientific occupations 37.3 49.7
Non-scientific occupations 487.1 384.7

Within occupations requiring a college education, the relative contributions of men and women were more balanced, with women representing 43% of the growth in scientific workers (an increase of 87,000 jobs) and 56% of the growth in non-scientific jobs (an increase of 872,000 jobs in total).

The sections below focus on occupations requiring a university education as the number of workers grew more rapidly in university-level scientific occupations than in college-level scientific occupations from 1991 to 2011. Women also contributed less to the overall increase in university-level scientific occupations over the period. However, readers interested in more information about occupations normally requiring a college education are invited to consult the section titled College-level scientific occupations.

Computer science drove the increase in university level workers between 1991 and 2011

Between 1991 and 2011, computer science contributed the most to the increase in university-level workers, accounting for 60% of the overall growth (Table 1).

Table 1
Number of workers aged 25 to 64 and increase from 1991 to 2011, university-level scientific occupations
Table summary
This table displays the results of Number of workers and increase from 1991 to 2011 1991, 2011 and Increase from 1991 to 2011, calculated using Number and Percentage distribution units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  1991 2011 Increase from 1991 to 2011
number percentage distribution number percentage distribution number percentage distribution
University-level scientific occupations  
All 300,500 100.0 604,600 100.0 304,100 100.0
Physical sciences 19,600 6.5 31,100 5.1 11,500 3.8
Life sciences 14,700 4.9 29,300 4.8 14,500 4.8
Civil, mechanical, electrical and chemical engineering 88,900 29.6 138,500 22.9 49,600 16.3
Other engineering 35,000 11.6 64,900 10.7 29,900 9.8
Architecture, urban planning and land surveying 24,300 8.1 33,000 5.5 8,700 2.9
Mathematics, statistics and actuarial science 5,300 1.8 11,400 1.9 6,000 2.0
Computer science 112,600 37.5 296,400 49.0 183,800 60.4
Men 246,200 81.9 467,200 77.3 221,000 72.7
Physical sciences 16,100 5.4 21,500 3.6 5,400 1.8
Life sciences 11,300 3.8 16,800 2.8 5,500 1.8
Civil, mechanical, electrical and chemical engineering 84,000 28.0 120,500 19.9 36,400 12.0
Other engineering 32,200 10.7 55,700 9.2 23,600 7.8
Architecture, urban planning and land surveying 20,200 6.7 23,800 3.9 3,600 1.2
Mathematics, statistics and actuarial science 3,300 1.1 5,700 0.9 2,400 0.8
Computer science 79,200 26.4 223,200 36.9 144,000 47.4
Women 54,300 18.1 137,400 22.7 83,100 27.3
Physical sciences 3,500 1.2 9,600 1.6 6,100 2.0
Life sciences 3,400 1.1 12,500 2.1 9,000 3.0
Civil, mechanical, electrical and chemical engineering 4,900 1.6 18,000 3.0 13,100 4.3
Other engineering 2,800 0.9 9,200 1.5 6,400 2.1
Architecture, urban planning and land surveying 4,100 1.4 9,300 1.5 5,100 1.7
Mathematics, statistics and actuarial science 2,100 0.7 5,600 0.9 3,600 1.2
Computer science 33,400 11.1 73,200 12.1 39,800 13.1

The fact that this sector was the source of such a significant portion of the growth in the number of workers is not surprising, given that the 1990s were characterized by a boom in the information technology and telecommunications industries. As a result, many people were drawn toward occupations in computer science.

However, not as many women chose these professions as compared to men. Between 1991 and 2011, men accounted for more than three-quarters of the increase in workers in computer science, while less than one-quarter was attributable to women. The lower female representation in computer science occupations, which contributed the most to the increase in scientific workers over the period, explains why women contributed relatively less to the overall increase in the number of scientific workers between 1991 and 2011.

In spite of the above, computer science remained the most common field for women in scientific occupations, accounting for more than one-half of them in 2011. This proportion was, however, on the decline—in 1991, computer science jobs accounted for almost two-thirds of all scientific occupations among women.

Civil engineering and “other engineering” occupations accounted for 16% and 10%, respectively, of the overall increase in the number of scientific workers. Women’s contribution to this increase was also relatively small, representing slightly more than one-quarter and slightly more than one-fifth, respectively, of the increase in workers in these occupations.

Thus, the contribution of women was relatively smaller in the scientific occupations that experienced the most significant employment growth between 1991 and 2011, computer science in particular, and, to a lesser degree, the engineering sectors.

In contrast, women were more strongly represented in occupations that experienced slower growth. They accounted for more than one-half of the increase in workers in architecture, urban planning and land surveying, physical and life sciences, and mathematics, statistics and actuarial sciences—fields that, when combined, accounted for 13% of the total increase in scientific workers from 1991 to 2011.

Fewer young women are in computer science

As indicated above, computer science occupations accounted for 60% of the increase in university-related science occupations from 1991 to 2011, and men accounted for more than three‑quarters of the increase in computer science occupations.

Results by age group indicate that the bulk of the increase came from men aged 35 to 54, as they accounted for more than one-half of the total 60% growth (Table 2). The contribution of young men aged 25 to 34 was smaller, but positive (8 out of 60 percentage points).

Table 2
Decomposition of the increase in the number of workers aged 25 to 64 from 1991 to 2011 in university-level scientific occupations, by field and by age group
Table summary
This table displays the results of Decomposition of the increase in the number of workers from 1991 to 2011 in university-level scientific occupations Total, Computer science, Engineering and Other, calculated using percentage units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  Total Computer science EngineeringNote 1 Other
percentage
Total 100.0 60.4 26.1 13.4
Age  
25 to 34 11.9 7.0 3.1 1.9
35 to 44 30.7 22.2 6.7 1.8
45 to 54 39.4 23.0 10.9 5.5
55 to 64 17.9 8.3 5.4 4.2
Men 72.7 47.4 19.7 5.6
25 to 34 8.9 8.4 1.1 -0.6
35 to 44 21.3 17.2 4.5 -0.4
45 to 54 28.2 15.9 9.2 3.2
55 to 64 14.2 5.9 5.0 3.4
Women 27.3 13.1 6.4 7.8
25 to 34 3.1 -1.4 2.0 2.4
35 to 44 9.4 5.0 2.2 2.2
45 to 54 11.2 7.1 1.7 2.3
55 to 64 3.7 2.4 0.5 0.9

The smaller contribution of young workers is largely due to the aging of the workforce. In both scientific and non-scientific occupations, the older age groups tended to contribute more to the increase in the number of workers from 1991 to 2011.

Contrary to young men, however, the number of young women in computer science declined over the period. Between 1991 and 2011, the number of women aged 25 to 34 employed in computer science occupations fell by about 4,000, with most of the decline occurring from 2001 to 2011.Note 4 By comparison, the number of young men in the same age group in computer science occupations rose by more than 25,000 over the period.

It was older women, particularly those aged 45 to 54, who accounted for the positive but limited contribution of women to the total increase in computer science workers during this period.

A number of hypotheses have been put forward to explain the decline in the number of young women in computer science. One hypothesis is a change in the factors that motivate women to opt for a career in computer science,Note 5 while another is a change in culture in the computer science community that may be less favourable to women.Note 6

By contrast, young women did contribute to employment growth in other areas, such as engineering and other scientific sectors, and their contribution even outpaced that of young men in the same age group. Even in these fields, however, men aged 45 to 64 represented the most significant source of growth between 1991 and 2011.

To get a better idea of the choices that young people make regarding their education, it is useful to examine the administrative data from the Postsecondary Student Information System (PSIS). This source provides information on the number of graduates from Canadian postsecondary institutions by sex and field of study. Although the data by field of study cannot be directly compared with the occupational data, it may help identify future trends in the Canadian scientific workforce.

In 2013, the proportion of female graduates in programs related to physical and life sciences and technologies was 55%, up from 46% in 1992 (Chart 5). In the field of architecture and related services, there was also a significant increase, from 41% in 1992 to 54% in 2013. These results are consistent with the increase in the proportion of women observed in these types of occupations.

Chart 5 Proportion of women among university graduates, by field of study, 1992 to 2013

Data table for Chart 5
Data table for Chart 5
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 5 Field of study, Physical and life sciences and technologies, Computer science and information sciences, Mathematics and statistics, Engineering, Architecture and related services and All other programs, calculated using proportion of female graduates (percent) units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  Field of study
Physical and life sciences and technologies Computer science and information sciences Mathematics and statistics Engineering Architecture and related services All other programs
proportion of female graduates (percent)
1992 45.6 32.7 39.0 14.2 40.6 61.6
1993 46.3 30.8 38.8 14.6 39.2 61.9
1994 49.0 30.0 38.6 16.9 41.5 62.2
1995 49.9 30.4 38.9 18.7 43.3 62.5
1996 51.2 29.6 40.6 18.6 44.2 63.1
1997 52.3 28.1 41.0 19.3 42.5 63.2
1998 53.2 27.5 42.6 19.8 41.5 63.5
1999 53.6 27.5 42.0 19.8 44.3 63.7
2000 54.4 28.5 41.7 22.2 47.3 63.8
2001 56.9 27.3 44.1 21.4 44.0 64.4
2002 57.4 27.8 42.9 21.8 45.6 65.2
2003 58.0 28.0 43.3 22.5 48.5 65.3
2004 58.2 27.6 42.2 22.5 50.2 65.3
2005 58.1 25.3 42.4 21.3 50.3 65.3
2006 58.5 25.3 43.7 19.7 51.3 65.8
2007 59.2 24.4 43.9 20.2 53.7 65.8
2008 57.5 25.7 42.2 19.5 52.6 65.1
2009 56.4 25.3 41.6 19.2 51.4 64.8
2010 56.0 27.9 40.6 18.9 52.3 64.4
2011 55.5 28.9 39.6 19.4 53.3 64.4
2012 54.6 27.7 40.0 19.6 52.8 64.4
2013 55.3 29.0 42.4 20.2 54.3 64.4

The proportion of female graduates in engineering rose from 14% in 1992 to 20% in 2013, but remained low in comparison with other fields. The proportion of female graduates rose slightly in mathematics and statistics (from 39% to 42%). In computer science, the proportion of women fell from 33% in 1992 to a low of 24% in 2007, before recovering to 29% in 2013. In all years, the proportion of women graduating in all other (non-scientific) fields of study was over 60%, reflecting the significant share of non-scientific occupations held by women.

Immigrants contributed to the growth in scientific workers

Immigration is another key factor driving the growth of the scientific workforce. Studies have highlighted the role played by immigrants in the renewal of Canada’s workforce—particularly in natural and applied sciences.Note 7 Furthermore, the proportion of immigrants is higher among science graduates than it is among other graduates—in 2011, more than one-half (51%) of all STEM degrees were held by immigrants.Note 8 

From 1991 to 2011, immigrant women and Canadian-born women contributed almost equally to the total increase in scientific workers at the university level (13% and 14%, respectively). Immigrant men and Canadian-born men also contributed in comparable proportions (34% and 39%, respectively) (Table 3).Note 9

Table 3
Decomposition of the increase in the number of workers aged 25 to 64 from 1991 to 2011 in university-level scientific occupations, by field and by immigration status
Table summary
This table displays the results of Decomposition of the increase in the number of workers from 1991 to 2011 in university-level scientific occupations Total, Computer science, Engineering and Other, calculated using percentage units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  Total Computer science EngineeringNote 1 Other
percentage
Total 100.0 60.4 26.1 13.4
Immigrants 46.8 29.3 13.0 4.4
Canadian-born 53.2 31.1 13.1 9.0
Men 72.7 47.4 19.7 5.6
Immigrants 33.9 22.1 9.8 2.0
Canadian-born 38.7 25.2 10.0 3.5
Women 27.3 13.1 6.4 7.8
Immigrants 12.9 7.2 3.3 2.4
Canadian-born 14.5 5.9 3.2 5.4

Because it contributed the most scientific workers over the period, examining immigration trends in computer science occupations is also important. From 1991 to 2011, immigrant women accounted for more than one-half (55%)Note 10 of the growth in female workers in computer science. Among men, immigrants accounted for 47%Note 11 of the increase in the number of male computer scientists.

Scientific occupations are generally associated with better employment conditions

According to data from the LFSNote 12, workers who were employed in natural and applied sciences generally had better employment conditions (Table 4).

Table 4
Employment characteristics of women and men aged 25 to 64 in university-level scientific and non-scientific occupations, 2010 to 2015
Table summary
This table displays the results of Employment characteristics of women and men aged 25 to 64 in university-level scientific and non-scientific occupations Women and Men, calculated using Scientific occupations, Non-scientific occupations (ref.), percentage and 2015 dollars ($) units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  Women Men
Scientific occupations Non-scientific occupations (ref.) Scientific occupations Non-scientific occupations (ref.)
  percentage
Job status  
Permanent 93.2Note * 87.2 94.6Note * 86.2
Temporary 6.8Note * 12.8 5.4Note * 13.8
Full-time or part-time status  
Full-time 97.0Note * 84.7 99Note * 92.8
Part-time 3.0Note * 15.3 1.0Note * 7.2
Unionization  
Unionized 25.7Note * 60.8 18.6Note * 46.9
Non-unionized 74.3Note * 39.2 81.4Note * 53.1
Job tenure  
Less than 1 year 11.5Note * 9.6 13.4Note * 11.4
1 to 2 years 9.1Note * 7.5 11.6Note * 9.3
2 to 5 years 24.3Note * 19.1 24.8Note * 21.0
5 years or more 55.1Note * 63.8 50.3Note * 58.4
Firm size  
Less than 20 employees 7.2 8.1 9.5 9.8
20 to 99 employees 11.1 10.6 13.1Note * 10.6
100 to 500 employees 12.6 13.2 14.7 13.5
More than 500 employees 69.1 68.1 62.7Note * 66.2
  2015 dollars ($)
Hourly wageNote 1  
Average 36.08Note * 34.56 39.68Note * 37.89
25 to 34 31.84Note * 30.69 34.23Note * 32.39
35 to 44 37.26Note * 35.89 40.20Note * 38.32
45 to 54 38.46Note * 36.43 43.43Note * 40.83
55 to 64 40.32Note * 36.99 45.05Note * 41.53

For example, among those in occupations normally requiring a university education, women who worked in scientific occupations were more likely than their counterparts in other fields to have a permanent position (93% versus 87%), to work full time (97% versus 85%) and to have higher hourly wages ($36.08 versus $34.56 among full-time workers). Women in scientific occupations were, however, less likely to be unionized (26% versus 61%). Similar differences were noted among men.

On average, men in scientific occupations who worked full-time earned 9% more than women. The wage gap was similar among those who held non-scientific occupations. The results, however, varied by age group.

Among younger workers, the wage gap was larger among scientific workers than it was among non-scientific workers. Specifically, among those who worked full time in scientific occupations, young males aged 25 to 34 earned approximately 8% more than their female counterparts. This compared with a 6% wage gap among those who were in non-scientific occupations (Chart 6). The gap was at least 12% in the case of women aged 45 and older, both in scientific and non-scientific occupations.Note 13

Chart 6 Wage gap between women and men, by age group, university-level scientific and non-scientific occupations, 2010 to 2015

Data table for Chart 6
Data table for Chart 6
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 6. The information is grouped by University-level occupations (appearing as row headers), Age, 25 to 34, 35 to 44, 45 to 54 and 55 to 64, calculated using wage gap (percent) units of measure (appearing as column headers).
University-level occupations Age
25 to 34 35 to 44 45 to 54 55 to 64
wage gap (percent)
Gap in non-scientific occupations 5.5 6.8 12.1 12.3
Gap in scientific occupations 7.5 7.9 12.9 11.7
Gap in scientific occupations if women were in the same occupations as men 5.9 7.5 12.1 9.3

Part of the gender wage gap might be due to the distribution of women across categories of scientific occupations, particularly among younger workers. In an attempt to measure the impact of composition effects on the gender wage gap, a “fictitious” average hourly wage was calculated to reflect what women might earn if they were distributed the same way as men across all occupations (all else being equal).

If women had the same occupational distribution as men, the wage gap would not disappear but would be smaller in all age groups. Among young workers aged 25 to 34, for instance, the wage gap would be 6% (instead of 8%). Similarly, the gap would be 9% instead of 12% among those aged 55 to 64.

The results above are consistent with other reports that examined gender differences in the labour market outcomes of young scientists. According to a recent study,Note 14 men aged 25 to 34 with a STEM degree had lower unemployment rates, higher wages and lower overqualification rates than their counterparts with a non-STEM degree. The same study found that the employment conditions of young female graduates from STEM programs were not distinctively different from those of young women who graduated from other fields, while young men had a distinct advantage over their counterparts with a non-STEM degree. Additional research is needed to gain a better understanding of the reasons for these differences between men and women in the scientific sectors.

Conclusion

Between 1991 and 2011, the proportion of women in scientific occupations increased, from 14% to 21% in college-level occupations and from 18% to 23% in university-level occupations. Increases were seen in all occupational categories, except in computer science occupations, where the proportion of women declined from 30% to 25% over the period.

Computer science had the most workers in 2011, and was the main driving force behind the growth in science workers from 1991 to 2011. However, women contributed little to the increase in the number of computer science workers over the period. The number of young women with a computer science occupation even declined over the period. Furthermore, more than half (55%) of the increase in the female workforce in computer science was attributable to immigrants.

Scientific occupations are typically associated with better employment conditions. Both male and female scientific workers were more likely to hold a permanent position, work full time and earn higher wages. However, male scientific workers earned more than their female counterparts, including among younger workers aged 25 to 34.

Dominique Dionne-Simard is an analyst in the Administrative Data Division at Statistics Canada. Diane Galarneau is a special advisor to the Centre for Education Statistics. Sébastien LaRochelle-Côté is Editor-in-Chief of Insights on Canadian Society at Statistics Canada.

Data sources, methods and definitions

Data sources

The data for this article come from the 1991 and 2001 censuses, the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) and the Labour Force Survey (LFS). The data on employment characteristics from the 1991 and 2001 Census of Population come from the long form sent to 1 in 5 households, or about 20% of the population. The 2011 NHS data come from a questionnaire sent to 1 in 3 households. The response rate for the NHS, a voluntary survey, was 68% compared with rates above 90% for previous censuses.

The LFS is conducted monthly with about 56,000 households. It provides information on major labour market trends by industry, occupation, hours worked, employment rate and unemployment rate. Data for the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut are excluded. The data used in this article are from March and September of each year between 2010 and 2015, in order to have a sufficiently large sample size and to ensure that observations are independent. The standard errors have been calculated with bootstrap weights.

“Scientific” occupations

Unlike the Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP), which has a group of fields of study referred to as “science, technology, engineering and mathematics” (STEM), the National Occupational Classification (NOC) does not provide sub-categories of scientific and non-scientific occupations. In an attempt to identify the occupations of persons with a STEM degree, natural and applied sciences occupations are used but it is important to note that STEM graduates may work in other occupations. These graduates can, in fact, teach, become managers or hold a job in an entirely different field. However, this occupational group is the one that most closely corresponds to the STEM field of study, which is why it was used in this article.

Harmonization of occupational codes

Occupations from the censuses, the NHS and the LFS are all coded according to the NOC. This system was developed jointly by Employment and Social Development Canada and Statistics Canada, and is updated periodically to reflect changes in the labour market. For example, some occupations that existed in 1991 had disappeared by 2011 and, inversely, new occupations in 2011 did not yet exist in 1991. Therefore, a number of occupations had to be reclassified to make them comparable over time.Note 15

Occupational data from the census and NHS data have been made comparable on the basis of the 2006 National Occupational Classification (NOC 2006). The LFS data uses the 2011 National Occupational Classification (NOC 2011). Using NOC, occupations can classified across skill levels. Natural and applied sciences occupations (scientific) were divided into two groups based on (a) whether they required a university degree or (b) a college diploma, and were compared with non-scientific occupations in their respective skill categories. Managers were excluded from this analysis because they have a variety of skill levels.

College-level scientific occupations

From 1991 to 2011, the number of people in a college-level scientific occupation rose by 87,000, or 34% (Table 5). At the university level, the number of people in these occupations doubled, as it increased by more than 300,000 people.

Table 5
Number of workers aged 25 to 64 and increase from 1991 to 2011, college-level scientific occupations
Table summary
This table displays the results of Number of workers and increase from 1991 to 2011 1991, 2011 and Increase from 1991 to 2011, calculated using Number and Distribution in percentage units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  1991 2011 Increase from 1991 to 2011
number percentage distribution number percentage distribution number percentage distribution
College-level scientific occupations  
All 254,800 100.0 341,800 100.0 87,000 100.0
Physical sciences 28,200 11.1 31,200 9.1 2,900 3.3
Life sciences 27,300 10.7 38,100 11.1 10,800 12.4
Civil, mechanical and industrial engineering 30,800 12.1 50,800 14.9 20,000 23.0
Electronic and electrical engineering 79,900 31.4 92,300 27.0 12,500 14.4
Architecture, drafting and land surveying 43,100 16.9 52,500 15.4 9,400 10.8
Other technical inspectors and regulatory officers 23,700 9.3 49,400 14.5 25,700 29.5
Transportation officers and controllers 21,800 8.6 27,500 8.0 5,700 6.6
Men 218,900 85.9 268,600 78.6 49,700 57.1
Physical sciences 19,500 7.7 18,100 5.3 -1,400 -1.6
Life sciences 21,400 8.4 23,800 7.0 2,400 2.8
Civil, mechanical and industrial engineering 28,000 11.0 43,000 12.6 15,100 17.4
Electronic and electrical engineering 73,900 29.0 84,400 24.7 10,500 12.1
Architecture, drafting and land surveying 34,700 13.6 37,600 11.0 2,900 3.3
Other technical inspectors and regulatory officers 20,800 8.2 36,800 10.8 16,000 18.4
Transportation officers and controllers 20,600 8.1 24,900 7.3 4,300 4.9
Women 35,900 14.1 73,200 21.4 37,300 42.9
Physical sciences 8,800 3.5 13,100 3.8 4,300 4.9
Life sciences 5,900 2.3 14,300 4.2 8,400 9.7
Civil, mechanical and industrial engineering 2,800 1.1 7,800 2.3 5,000 5.7
Electronic and electrical engineering 5,900 2.3 7,900 2.3 2,000 2.3
Architecture, drafting and land surveying 8,400 3.3 15,000 4.4 6,600 7.6
Other technical inspectors and regulatory officers 2,800 1.1 12,500 3.7 9,700 11.1
Transportation officers and controllers 1,200 0.5 2,600 0.8 1,400 1.6

Compared with university-level occupations, women contributed in a larger degree to the increase in workers in college-level occupations (43%, compared with 57% for men).

Specifically, women contributed to the increase of technical inspectors and regulatory officers occupations (accounting for 11% of the total increase in college-level scientific workers), life sciences (10%) and architecture, drafting and land surveying (8%).

Men’s contribution occurred mainly in the two engineering occupational groups (where they accounted for almost one-third of total growth) and in other technical inspectors and regulatory officers occupations (18%).

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