Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report
Women and Paid Work

by Melissa Moyser, PhD

Release date: March 8, 2017 Correction date: March 9, 2017

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Correction notice

On March 9, 2017, a correction was made in the first paragraph of the sub-section entitled "Employment rate of mothers increases with age of the youngest child." The employment rate of women with no children under the age of 25 grew by 12.0 percentage points between 1976 and 2015, not 2.0 percentage points as was originally stated.

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Introduction

Based on the Labour Force Survey (LFS), 82.0% of women in the core working ages of 25 to 54 years (6 million) participated in the labour market in 2015. This compared to 21.6% (563,000) of women in 1950Note 1 and 65.2% (3.3 million) in 1983. Although women continue to be somewhat less likely than their male counterparts to participate in the labour market, this gender disparityNote 2 has decreased considerably over the years, from 75.5 percentage points in 1950 to 28.3 percentage points in 1983 and 8.9 percentage points in 2015. In spite of this trend, women’s experiences of paid work tend to differ from those of men, being shaped to a greater extent by their caregiving rolesNote 3Note 4Note 5Note 6 and/or their employers’ presumptions of these roles.Note 7Note 8

Using primarily annual data from the LFS, this chapter of Women in Canada examines women’s labour market experiences in comparison with men’s and, where relevant, explores how they have evolved over time. Specifically, historical trends in women’s labour force participation in Canada are documented and situated against other G‑7 countries. In addition, employment patterns across a variety of personal and work characteristics are considered: province, educational attainment, marital status, presence of dependent children and age of youngest child in the household, lone parenthood, work hours, self‑employment, sector of employment (e.g., public or private), "precarious" employment (i.e., part‑time and/or temporary employment), industry, and occupation. Unemployment patterns by age, province, and reason are also considered, including Employment Insurance claims and beneficiaries. 

Most analyses in this chapter focus on women (and men) in the core working ages of 25 to 54 years, as youth’s (15 to 24 years) labour market experiences tend to be shaped by school attendance and, in the case of those 55 years and older, their labour market experiences tend to be shaped by retirement. However, gender differences in labour market indicators among young and older women are considered separately at the end of this chapter.

Gender often overlaps with other social characteristics, such as visible minority status, Aboriginal status, immigrant status (i.e., Canadian‑born or foreign‑born) and class. These social characteristics may intersect, creating diverse labour market experiences among women (and men). In this chapter, labour market indicators for women versus men are not further disaggregated by the aforementioned social characteristics, as they are covered in other chapters of Women in Canada.

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Data Source: Labour Force Survey (LFS)

The Labour Force Survey (LFS) is a household survey conducted monthly by Statistics Canada. It provides timely information on major labour market trends by dividing the working‑age population into three mutually exclusive categories—employed, unemployed and not in the labour force—and collecting data on a variety of descriptive and explanatory variables. The LFS is based on a sample of approximately 56,000 households. Excluded from the survey’s coverage are: persons living on reserves and other Aboriginal settlements in the provinces, full‑time members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the institutionalized population, and households in extremely remote areas with low population density. Although the LFS is conducted nationwide, the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut are not included in the national totals provided in this chapter as a different methodology is used in the territories. Statistics from the LFS presented here are based on monthly data that have been annualized through averaging.

Although the LFS was introduced in 1945, a large‑scale revision of the questionnaire and sample design occurred in 1976. For this reason, 1976 serves as the starting point for most series presented in this chapter. Occupational classification begins in 1987, as that is as far back as the series was revised upon the introduction of a new coding scheme.

For more information, please refer to the Guide to the Labour Force Survey or the History of the Canadian Labour Force Survey, 1945 to 2016.

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Women in the labour market: Trends over time in Canada and internationally

Of the many social and economic changes in the post‑World War II period, one of the most profound is the dramatic increase in the labour force participation of women.Note 9Note 10 The upsurge in women with breadwinning roles has been facilitated by interrelated social changes that include the evolution of norms regarding gender roles, particularly for wives and mothers, in the wake of the women’s movement; the invention of electric appliances that lessen the time required to perform housework; the introduction of the birth control pill and reduced fertility; the legalization of divorce, and later the removal of fault‑based grounds for divorce; and the expansion of educational and job opportunities with the shift from a manufacturing to service‑based economy.Note 11

Based on data from the LFS, women’s participation in the labour market increased by 60.4 percentage points between 1950 and 2015, from 21.6% to 82.0% (Chart 1). Between 1950 and 1990, the labour force participation of women grew an average of 1.4 percentage points per year. Since 1991, the rate of growth has slowed to an average of 0.3 percentage points per year.

While women’s labour force participation trended upward between 1950 and 2015,Note 12 men’s trended downward to some extent (Chart 1). In 2015, 90.9% of men participated in the labour market, compared to 97.1% in 1950—a decrease of 6.2 percentage points. This reflects the erosion of "good" job opportunities for men, particularly for those with lower levels of educational attainment, coinciding with broader economic shifts, including technological advances, globalization and the transition from a manufacturing‑based economy to a service‑based economy.Note 13 Due to these converging trends, the gender participation gap—defined as the difference between the labour force participation rates of men and women—decreased from 75.5 percentage points in 1950 to 28.3 percentage points in 1983 and 8.9 percentage points in 2015.

In the context of the G‑7 countries,Note 14 Canada aligns favorably with respect to the gap between the labour force participation rates of men and women, both historically and currently (Chart 2).Note 15 In 1984, the first year for which labour market data is available for all of the G‑7 countries, the United States had the smallest gender participation gap (25.7 percentage points), followed by Canada (26.5 percentage points). By 1989, this disparity had decreased in Canada such that it was the smallest among the G‑7 countries at 19.1 percentage points.Note 16 With continued declines in the ensuing years, the gender participation gap in Canada remained the lowest among its peers in 2015 (8.9 percentage points).

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Definition of key labour market indicators

There are three key measures of labour market activity: the employment rate, the unemployment rate, and the labour force participation rate. In effect, the population is divided into three groups based on how they are related to the labour market. An individual is employed when he/she does any paid work at a job or business, in the context of an employer‑employee relationship or self‑employment (Guide to the Labour Force Survey). Conversely, an individual is unemployed when he/she is without work, but he/she is looking for work and it is available for work. For an individual to be considered part of the labour force, he/she must be either employed or unemployed, according to the preceding definitions. It follows that an individual is not in the labour force if he/she is neither employed nor unemployed, is unable or not available for work, and did not search for work.

For a particular group, the employment rate is defined as the number of employed people in that group expressed as a percentage of the total population for that group. Similarly, the unemployment rate is defined as the number of unemployed people in a given group expressed as a percentage of the labour force (number of employed and unemployed) for that group. The labour force participation rate is defined as the labour force in a given group expressed as a percentage of the total population for that group.

Since this chapter relates to paid work, the focus is primarily on the employment rate as opposed to the participation rate, although the unemployment rate is considered separately. The participation rate includes both those with any kind of job in the labour market and those seeking paid work. The combination of employed and unemployed people in one figure can obscure gender differences between the sexes in employment and unemployment experiences.

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Employment patterns

The gender employment gap is greater in census metropolitan areas with high day‑care fees

Provincial variation in employment rates is an enduring feature of the economic landscape in Canada. The Atlantic region—composed of Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick—has persistently lower employment rates than the rest of the country. Quebec has also had an employment rate that is below the national average, as did British Columbia. On the other hand, historically, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta have been the provinces with high employment rates.

Given provincial variability in employment levels, the most meaningful way to look at gender in this regard involves calculating the difference between the employment rates of men and women within provinces, and then comparing the resulting gender employment gap between provinces (Table 1). Notably, the provinces with the highest employment rates in general also had the largest gender employment gaps in 2015: Alberta (11.3 percentage points), Ontario (8.9 percentage points), Manitoba (8.8 percentage points), and Saskatchewan (8.2 percentage points). In the Prairie region, the employment rates of both women and men exceeded the national average, but they did so to a greater extent for men. In Ontario and British Columbia, the employment rates of women were below the national average, while the employment rates of men were equivalent to the national average. 

The gender employment gap was smallest in New Brunswick (1.3 percentage points), Newfoundland and Labrador (2.8 percentage points), Nova Scotia (3.1 percentage points), Prince Edward Island (3.2 percentage points), and Quebec (3.9 percentage points) (Table 1). In these provinces, the employment rates of women were mostly above the national average, while the employment rates of men were below the national average.

Among census metropolitan areas (CMAs), those in Ontario and British Columbia had some of the largest gender employment gaps, led by Abbotsford‑Mission (14.8 percentage points), Toronto (12.6 percentage points), and Vancouver (11.8 percentage points) (Table 1). Previous research demonstrates that the labour supply of mothers is sensitive to variations in the cost of childcare.Note 17 Interestingly, Toronto had the highest childcare fees in Canada, and those in Vancouver were among the highest (Table 1).Note 18 The cost of childcare in these CMAs, along with the limited availability of regulated spaces, may play a role in the gender employment gap to the extent that they inhibit mothers’ participation in the labour market. In comparison with Toronto and Vancouver, the gender employment gap in Montreal was 6.4 percentage points. Women’s employment rate exceeded men’s by a small margin in two other CMAs in Quebec: Sherbrooke and Trois‑Rivières. Additionally, the gender employment gap was among the smallest in Saguenay and Québec City. In Ottawa‑Gatineau, the gender employment gap on the Quebec side was 2.6 percentage points, compared to 7.3 percentage points on the Ontario side. This likely reflects Quebec’s universal low‑fee childcare program,Note 19 launched in 1997, as well as the increase in the refundable provincial tax credit for daycare expenses in 2009, benefitting parents of children in non‑subsidized spaces.Note 20Note 21 As a result of these programs, the cost of childcare in Quebec was the lowest in the country by a significant margin in 2015, regardless of the age group of children considered.

The gender employment gap decreases as educational attainment increases, but it does not disappear

Over the past two and a half decades, there has been a sustained upward trend in educational attainment among Canadians, led by women.Note 22Note 23Note 24 The proportion of women with a university degree has grown twice as much as the proportion of men, such that women outnumbered men among university‑degree holders by a sizable margin in 2015 (6.5 percentage points). Specifically, between 1990, when the educational attainment variable was introduced in the LFS, and 2015, the proportion of women with a university degree increased from 13.7% to 35.1% (21.4 percentage points). Over the same period, the proportion of men with a university degree increased from 17.1% to 28.6% (11.5 percentage points). In the United States, Goldin (2006) interprets women’s greater investments in education (i.e., human capital) since the 1970s as being indicative of the new‑found centrality of employment and occupation to their identity and social worth.Note 25 She suggests that it also reflects a shift in women’s horizons, wherein employment becomes part of a long‑term career as opposed to a job.Note 26

Higher levels of educational attainment are integral to economic well‑being, as they tend to insulate people from unemployment (Table 2). Interestingly, higher levels of educational attainment matter more for women’s employment than they do for men’s. This is indicated by the greater variability of women’s employment rates across levels of educational attainment.Note 27 For example, in 2015, the employment rate of women with a high school diploma was 69.3% compared to 83.1% for those with a university degree—a difference of 13.8 percentage points. The employment rate of men with a high school diploma was 81.9% compared to 89.9% for those with a university degree—a difference of 8.0 percentage points. That education is more influential for women’s employment than it is for men’s may reflect the combination of traditional gender roles for women that emphasize the primacy of domesticity, and the lower "opportunity costs" (i.e., foregone wages) associated with being unemployed and not in the labour force for those with lower levels of education.

The gender employment gap tends to narrow with increasing levels of educational attainment. The difference between the employment rates of women and men was 18.2 percentage points among those with less than high school (49.0% vs. 67.2%, respectively), 12.6 percentage points among high school graduates (69.3% vs. 81.9%), 6.6 percentage points among those with a postsecondary certificate or diploma (82.1% vs. 88.7%), and 6.8 percentage points among those with a university degree (83.1% vs. 89.9%). It is noteworthy that the gender employment gap exists even among those with a university degree.

The association of marriage with reduced employment among women has weakened

Married women played an important role in the post‑war increase in the employment rate of women as a whole. The employment rate of married women (including those living common‑law)Note 28 grew more than that of single, never‑married women or separated, divorced or widowed women (Chart 3), as a substantial proportion of single, never‑married women has always worked.Note 29 Specifically, the employment rate of married women grew by 33.5 percentage points between 1976 and 2015, from 44.6% to 78.1%. In contrast, the employment rate of separated, divorced, or widowed women grew by 18.3 percentage points over the same period, from 59.2% to 77.5%, while the employment rate of single, never‑married women decreased by 3.6 percentage points, from 79.4% to 75.8%.

Historically, marital status has affected the employment of men and women differently. Given traditional gender roles, which emphasize breadwinning for men and housework and childcare for women, marriage has corresponded to increased employment for men and decreased employment for women. Since the beginning of the modern LFS in 1976, married men (including those living common‑law) have had the highest employment rate, followed by separated, divorced or widowed (hereafter referred to as "previously married") men and single, never‑married (hereafter referred to as "single") men (Chart 4). In contrast, married women have always had the lowest employment rate, followed by single women and previously‑married women until 1992, after which time the latter two groups were inverted (Chart 3).

The extent to which marriage (including those living common‑law) is associated with reduced employment among women has steadily declined over the years (Chart 5). This is the case whether a comparison is made between single and married women or married men and women. In 1976, 79.4% of single women and 92.7% of married men were employed, compared to 44.6% of married women—differences of 34.8 and 48.1 percentage points, respectively. By 2010, nearly equivalent proportions of married and single women were employed (77.1% and 76.6%, respectively), and it has remained that way since. The employment rate for married men has declined somewhat over time (as it has for all men), but the employment rate for married women has risen. As a result, the gender employment gap among married people narrowed to 12.2 percentage points in 2007, and remained in that vicinity thereafter.

Another way of looking at marital status and gender in relation to employment involves focusing on the allocation of earning roles among husband‑wife couples (including those living common‑law). The gender division of paid work has changed considerably over time (Chart 6). In 1976, couple families in which there was a single, male earner were the most prevalent family type: 46.6% of people were in husband‑wife couples where only the male spouse worked for pay. Around 38.0% of people were in dual‑earner couple families. With the rising labour force participation of women, single‑earner‑male couple families became less prevalent, while dual‑earner couple families became more prevalent. By 2015, 15.0% of people were in husband‑wife couples where only the male spouse worked for pay—three times fewer people than in 1976. Conversely, 58.1% of people were in dual‑earner couple families—20.0% more than in 1976. Interestingly, the proportion of single‑earner‑female couple families also increased by 3.5 percentage points between 1976 and 2015, from 2.6% to 6.1%.

Employment rate of mothers increases with age of the youngest child

It was once common for women to cease work upon parenthood, if they had not already done so upon marriage.Note 30 For this reason, the post‑war increase in women’s employment was greatest among women with young children. Between 1976 and 2015, the employment rate of women whose youngest child was under the age of 6 grew by 37.4 percentage points, from 32.1% to 69.5%; and the employment rate of women with children aged 6 to 11 grew by 33.1 percentage points, from 45.0% to 78.1% (Chart 7).Note 31 The employment rate of women with children aged 12 to 17 grew to a lesser extent (31.0 percentage points), from 50.4% to 81.4%, as did the employment rate of women with children aged 18 to 24 (31.2 percentage points), from 50.5% to 81.7%. The employment rate of women with no children under the age of 25 grew at a much slower pace between 1976 and 2015—12.0 percentage points, from 67.3% to 79.3%. In summary, the employment rate of women with no children under the age of 12 (including those with no children) grew to a lesser extent than did the employment rate of women with younger children, as the former had higher rates to begin with in 1976.

The employment rate of mothers generally rises with the age of the youngest child in the household, as the child enters school and matures such that they are increasingly self‑reliant. For this reason, between 1976 and 2015, mothers whose youngest child was under the age of 6 consistently had the lowest employment rates. However, during this period, the employment rates of women with children of different ages converged—albeit not completely (Chart 7). As a result, in 2015, the age of the youngest child in the household still affected the likelihood of women’s employment, but it did so to a lesser extent than it did in previous years. One indicator of this diminished effect is the degree of variability in the employment rates of women related to the age of the youngest child. Among women with a child under the age of 18 in 2015, the employment rate differed by 11.9 percentage points between those with a child under the age of 6 and those with a child aged 12 to 17. The equivalent figure for 1976 was 18.3 percentage points.

The age of the youngest child tends to be less influential for men’s employment than it is for women’s employment (Chart 8). In 1976, the employment rate of men with children under the age of 6, aged 6 to 11 and aged 12 to 17 were virtually identical at 93.3%, 93.4% and 93.2%, respectively. In 2015, men with children under the age of 12 were slightly less likely to be employed than men with children aged 12 to 17 (90.8% vs. 92.1%, respectively). In both 1976 and 2015, men with children aged 18 to 24 had the lowest employment rate, except for men with no children under the age of 25, as they were themselves nearing the end of the core working ages and some may have already retired.

There is limited variability in the employment rate of men related to the age of the youngest child in the household. Among men with a child in the household under the age of 18 in 2015, the employment rate differed by 1.3 percentage points between those with a child under the age of 6 and those with a child aged 12 to 17. As mentioned above, the equivalent figure for women was 11.9 percentage points.

Lone female parents have a lower employment rate than both lone male parents and mothers in couples

The absence of a spouse/partner tends to hinder the employment of parents. This is particularly true for women, who constituted 80.8% of lone parents with a child under the age of 18 in the household in 2015. Nearly 72.0% of lone mothers were employed, compared to 75.8% of mothers in couples (Chart 9). Lone parenthood also limits the employment of men: 83.0% of lone fathers were employed, compared to 91.5% of fathers in couples. For women, it has not always been the case that lone parenthood corresponds to a lower likelihood of employment. Lone mothers actually had a higher employment rate than mothers in couples until 1986, at which point the relationship was reversed. After burgeoning through the 1990s, when the employment rate of lone mothers failed to keep pace with improvements in the employment rate of mothers in couples, the employment gap between these groups converge in the early to mid‑2000s. Beginning in 2009, and coinciding with the global economic downturn, the employment rate of lone mothers declined relative to that of mothers in couples, and the employment gap between these groups expanded once again.

Why does lone parenthood tend to negatively affect the likelihood of employment? Although former spouses/partners may have a joint custody/co‑parenting arrangement, implementing daily routines (e.g., meals, homework, chores, and bedtimes) within the household is the purview of the one parent with whom the child resides (be it on certain days or everyday) in that household. Given that lone parents have to manage day‑to‑day household and childrearing responsibilities on their own, it may be difficult for them to combine these responsibilities with paid work. There may also be a segment of the lone‑parent population for whom it is economically rational to forego employment, given gender disparities in wages and the limited availability of affordable, quality childcare.Note 32

Women perform fewer hours of paid per week on average than men

Women generally perform fewer paid hours than men, as they tend to spend more time on housework and childcare.Note 33Note 34Note 35Note 36 However, the difference between the work hours of men and women has narrowed to some extent with the passage of time, mostly as a result of declines in men’s work hours (Chart 10). In 1976, women usually worked 34.5 hours per week at all jobs, while men worked 43.6 hours—a difference of 9.1 hours on a weekly basis. By 2015, this gender difference in work hours had decreased to 5.6 hours per week, as women’s weekly work hours rose by 1 hour to 35.5 and men’s weekly work hours declined by 2.5 hours to 41.1.

The difference between the proportions of men and women working long hours—defined as 50 hours or more per week—also narrowed between 1976 and 2015. In 1976, 4.8% of women worked long hours compared to 18.1% of men—a difference of 13.3 percentage points. By 2015, the proportion of women working long hours increased by half of a percentage point to 5.3%, and the proportion of men working long hours decreased by 4.1 percentage points. As a result, the difference between the proportions of men and women working long hours narrowed to 8.7 percentage points.

The presence and age of the youngest child in the household has a notable effect on the work hours of women, but very little effect on those of men (Charts 11, 12 and 13). For women, work hours generally increase as children age, although this relationship has weakened over time (Chart 11). In 1976, the average weekly work hours of mothers ranged from 30.9 for those with a child under the age of 6 to 35.2 for those with a child aged 18 to 24, a difference of 4.3 hours. By 2015, the average weekly work hours of mothers ranged from 34.1 for those with a child under the age of 6 to 35.9 for those with a child aged 18 to 24, a difference of 1.8 hours. Between 1976 and 2015, the average weekly work hours of mothers grew most among those with children under the age of 6. Women who did not have a child under the age of 25, including women with no children, worked the greatest number of hours per week on average in both 1976 and 2015: 37.2 and 36.4, respectively.

In contrast, the average weekly hours of fathers varied according to the age of the youngest child in the household to a lesser extent (Chart 13). In 2015, the average weekly work hours of fathers fluctuated by 30 minutes, from 41.6 for those with a child under the age of 6 to 42.1 for those with a child aged 12 to 17. Fathers with children aged 18 to 24 worked the same number of average weekly hours (41.9) as those with children aged 6 to 11.

Interestingly, in 2015, women without children had higher average weekly work hours than mothers, while men without children had lower average weekly work hours than fathers.

Women are more likely than men to work part‑time, and the reason most cited by women for working part‑time was caring for children

While the vast majority of both women and men were employed on a full‑time basis, women were over‑represented among those working part‑time, which partly accounts for their lower average weekly work hours relative to men. In 2015, 18.9% of employed women worked part‑time, as did 5.5% of employed men (Table 3). Put differently, three quarters (75.8%) of those working part‑time were women. This represents a decrease in women’s share of those employed on a part‑time basis, which stood at 89.0% in 1976.

The reasons that women and men work part‑time generally differ. Women have retained "ultimate" responsibility for childrearing and household operation, in accordance with traditional gender roles, even as they have assumed earning responsibilitiesNote 37Note 38Note 39Note 40Note 41 Part‑time work may enable women to balance earning and caring roles. Among those who worked part‑time in 2015, a greater proportion of women did so voluntarily—meaning that they wanted to work less than 30 hours per week—than men (67.2% vs. 53.0%). Chief among all reasons identified by women for working part‑time was caring for children: one‑quarter of women reported caring for children as their reason for working part‑time, compared to 3.3% of men.

Conversely, a greater proportion of men than women worked part‑time involuntarily in 2015, meaning that they wanted to work 30 or more hours per week (47.0% vs. 32.8%). Of involuntary reasons for working part‑time, business conditions was cited by the largest proportion of both men and women (35.0% and 23.3%, respectively).

Women’s careers are interrupted more frequently than men’s careers, for longer total durations

Women still tend to have greater responsibility for children and other family members as well as for the smooth functioning of the home.Note 42Note 43Note 44 As a result, they are more likely than men to experience work absences and interruptions—both long‑term, scheduled absences related to childbearing and rearing and short‑term, sporadic absences related to a child’s illness or a major household appliance in need of repair.Note 45Note 46 Previous research has documented the stigmatization of work absences and interruptions, as well as fewer subsequent promotion opportunities and earnings increases.Note 47Note 48

The LFS tracks the incidence, duration, and reasons for the work absences of employees in the reference week. Part‑time workers and the self‑employed are excluded from the data presented here because they tend to have more schedule flexibility, and they are therefore in a better position to minimize work absences.Note 49

In 2015, 30.0% of women were away from work sometime during the reference week, compared to 23.9% of men (Table 4). Among those employees, more women were away for the full week (38.4%) than men (24.8%). The reasons provided by women and men for their work absence in the reference week also differed to some extent. Most women and men were absent for voluntary reasons, such as vacation. However, a smaller proportion of women were away from work for voluntary reasons compared to men (57.1% vs. 72.4%). Women were more likely to be away from work for involuntary reasons—their own illness, disability or personal or familial reasons, including maternity and parental leave—than men. Specifically, 21.1% of women who were absent cited their own illness or disability as the reason, compared to 18.2% of their male counterparts. Another 21.7% of women who were absent attributed their absence to family or personal responsibilities, compared to 9.3% of men.

Work absences for personal sickness or providing care to an ill child generally arise spontaneously. Focusing on these absences (as distinct from other types, such as vacation and maternity or parental leave, which tend to be scheduled in advance and therefore can be fairly easily accommodated by the employer), the incidence rate can be calculated as the percentage of full‑time employees who were absent during the reference week.Note 50Note 51 In 2015, more women were absent from work during the reference week for reasons of illness, injury, or personal or family responsibilities than were their male counterparts: 2.6% vs. 1.9%.

The incidence rate does not provide an indication of the duration of work absences. The inactivity rate is valuable in this regard, as it expresses hours lost as a percentage of the usual weekly hours of full‑time employees.Note 52 In 2015, women lost 0.8% of their usual weekly hours through work absences related to illness, injury, or personal or family responsibilities. The comparable figure for men was 0.5%. Assuming that there are 250 work days in a given year, each female employee lost an average of 2.1 work days annually. In comparison, each male employee lost an average of 1.3 work days annually.

Cycle 25 of the General Social Survey (GSS) on family tracks respondents’ work history retrospectively, given its interrelationship with family transitions. In the context of this survey, a work interruption is defined as being away from work for more than three months. Based on data from Cycle 25 of the GSS, a greater proportion of men had either no work interruptions since they first started working for a period of six months or longer (27.9%) or only one work interruption (50.5%) compared to women (24.7% and 42.1%, respectively) in 2011 (Table 5).Note 53 Conversely, more women had two or more work interruptions than men (33.2% vs. 21.6%). Given women’s greater number of work interruptions, the total duration combined amounted to an average of 18.5 months (approximately 1.5 years). The comparable figure for men was 8.6 months.

Not surprisingly, 46.8% of women took at least one maternity or parental leave, compared to 3.8% of their male counterparts. The average duration of a women’s maternity or parental leave combined was 15.2 months, or 1.3 years. The comparable figure for men was 3.7 months.

Important differences exist in maternity or parental leave taking, particularly by fathers, in Quebec as compared to the rest of Canada (ROC). Canada currently has two maternal/parental leave benefit programs for the care of newborn or newly adopted children: a federal program administered through Employment Insurance (EI) and, since 2006, a provincial program exclusive to residents of Quebec. The Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP) has lower eligibility criteria and higher maximum for insurable income, making it both more accessible and more generous than the federal program.

According to data from the 2015 Employment Insurance Coverage Survey (EICS), 87.4% of new mothers (defined as women with a child aged 12 months and under) in Quebec had insurable employmentNote 54 in the past two years, compared to 71.9% of their counterparts in the ROC.Note 55 Of new mothers with insurable employment in the past two years, 98.7% in Quebec received maternity or parental benefits, as did 83.9% in the ROC.

New fathers are increasingly claiming or intending to claim parental benefits in both Quebec and the ROC, but proportionally more new fathers in Quebec have done so than their counterparts in the ROC. In addition to being more accessible and generous, QPIP includes a non‑transferable paternity leave of up to five weeks. Since the introduction of this program, the proportion of new fathers in Quebec who claimed or intended to claim parental benefits increased by 61.0 percentage points, from 25.3% in 2005 to 86.3% in 2015.Note 56 Over the same period, the proportion of new fathers in the ROC who claimed or intended to claim parental benefits increased by 1.0 percentage point, from 11.3% to 12.3%.

Women have nearly equivalent job tenure with their current employer as men

Most people, regardless of sex, were paid employees in 2015, as opposed to being self‑employed or unpaid family workers (Table 6). Specifically, 88.1% of women and 83.0% of men were paid employees. The private sector employed a greater proportion of people than did the public sector, but women were less likely to work in the private sector than men (58.2% vs. 67.3%). Conversely, nearly double the proportion of women were employed in the public sector than men (29.9% vs. 15.7%).

Among employees, around one‑third had union coverage in 2015 (Table 6). Given that women were over‑represented in the public sector, it follows that a greater proportion of female employees had union coverage than male employees (35.9% vs. 31.1%). The vast majority of people were employed on a permanent basis in 2015, but slightly more women than men were employed on a temporary basis. Women and men were fairly similar in terms of job tenure with their current employer. Women’s average job tenure was 93.7 months, while men’s was 94.9 months—just under 8 years in both cases. The current similarity in job tenure between women and men is noteworthy. In 1976, men had much longer job tenure than women: 101.4 months compared to 67.6 months—a difference of 33.8 months, or just over two‑and‑a‑half years. The increase in women’s job tenure over time is suggestive of their greater attachment to the labour force over the life course (i.e., temporary, fewer and/or shorter family‑related career interruptions).

Multiple jobholding has become increasingly common over time, especially for women, as people are drawn to extra work to supplement regular income or repay debt, hedge precarious employment or compensate for inconsistent work hours, or simply for the enjoyment of a second job.Note 57 In 1976, 2.8% of men were multiple jobholders, as were 1.5% of women. By 2015, the proportion of men who were multiple jobholders had increased by 1.7 percentage points to 4.5%, while the proportion of women who were multiple jobholders had increased by 5.0 percentage points to 6.5%.

For most multiple jobholders in 2015, their main job was in the services‑producing sector, particularly in industries such as health care and social assistance, educational services, and wholesale and retail trade (data not shown). As will be seen later on, women are over‑represented in the services‑producing sector, and in the health care and social assistance and educational services industries in particular. A sizable proportion of female multiple jobholders have a main job that is part‑time (38.9%), compared to about half that number of male multiple jobholders (18.2%). For women, then, multiple jobholding may be a means of making ends meet in circumstances where full‑time work is either underpaid, unavailable or too inflexible to accommodate their family responsibilities.

Self‑employment is less common among women compared to men

Owning one’s own business is either seen as the ultimate coup in the world of work, as it enables individuals to set their own hours and pursue projects of self‑interest, or as a last resort, particularly in a slack labour market. While increasing numbers of women have pursued business ownership as a labour market strategy in the past three decades, men continue to dominate self‑employment. In 2015, 38.8% of self-employed people were women and 61.2% were men. This represents a sizable increase over 1976, when 17.2% of self-employed people were women and 82.8% were men.

Not only are women under‑represented among the self‑employed, they are also less likely than men to have an incorporated business while self‑employed—that is, a business declared as a legal entity that is separate from the owner as an individual. Specifically, 34.2% of self‑employed women had an incorporated business in 2015, compared to 53.2% of men. Conversely, 65.8% of women had an unincorporated business compared to 46.8% of men. Women were also less likely than men to have paid help, whether or not their business was incorporated.

Women outnumber men in the services‑producing sector

The economy consists of two broad sectors: the goods‑producing sector and the services‑producing sector. The goods‑producing sector yields tangible products, and consists of industries related to the exploitation of natural resources (i.e., agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction), utilities, construction, and manufacturing. As its name suggests, the services‑producing sector produces intangible goods in the form of services. This sector consists of a diverse range of industries, including wholesale and retail trade; transportation and warehousing; finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing; professional, scientific and technical services; business, building and other support services; educational services; health care and social assistance; information, culture and recreation; accommodation and food services; public administration; and other services.

Since the late 1960s, the services‑producing sector has been the main employer in Canada.Note 58 The proportion of people employed in this sector, as opposed to the goods‑producing sector, rose from 63.9% in 1976 to 77.6% in 2015 (Chart 14). The growth of the services‑producing sector is intertwined with the upsurge in women’s employment.Note 59 Virtually all of the increase in the number of employed women occurred in the services‑producing sector, while the number of women employed in the goods‑producing sector remained fairly stable (Chart 15). As of 1985, women have outnumbered men with respect to employment in the services‑producing sector.

As the proportion of people employed in the services‑producing sector increased over time, the proportion of people employed in the goods‑producing sector declined (i.e., economic restructuring). Specifically, 36.1% of people were employed in the goods‑producing sector in 1976 compared to 22.4% of people in 2015 (Chart 14). This trend reflects the forces of technological advancement in communication and transportation as well as globalization and international competition, which have progressively eliminated jobs from manufacturing in particular.Note 60 The goods‑producing sector has been a stronghold of men’s employment historically, and it continues to be so today. As a result, men’s job opportunities have been reduced by economic restructuring, while women’s have expanded.

Women are concentrated in industries that parallel their traditional gender roles at more than double the rate of men

Although breadwinning has become a central and enduring role for most women, their employment often parallels their traditional gender roles of homemaking and caregiving.Note 61 In other words, what is typically designated as "women’s work" in the private sphere tends to be designated as such in the public sphere as well. Consequently, in 2015, the three industries with the greatest share of women (relative to men) were health care and social assistance (82.4%), educational services (69.3%), and accommodation and food services (58.5%). The proportion of women who worked in these industries was 41.0%, versus 13.1% of men. In comparison, 18.4% of men worked in the three industries with the greatest share of men (relative to women): construction (88.3%); forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction (80.5%); and utilities (77.8%). Thus, women were concentrated in sex‑typed industries at more than double the rate of men.

The same three industries that had the greatest share of women in 2015 did so in 1976 as well: health care and social assistance (74.1%), accommodation and food services (59.1%), and educational services (52.1%). Although these were the only industries dominated by women in 1976, a smaller proportion of women worked in them (35.4%) than in 2015. The proportion of women in all female‑dominated industries increased between 1976 and 2015, from 35.4% to 59.6% (24.2 percentage points). In contrast, the proportion of men in all male‑dominated industries decreased over the same period, from 88.5% to 72.0% (16.5 percentage points).

Women and men occupy distinct occupations, with women’s typically being at lower levels than men’s

Situated within industries are occupations. Just as industries are sex‑typed, so are occupations. Female‑dominated occupations are often in female‑dominated industries, and male‑dominated occupations are often in male‑dominated industries, but that is not always the case. Even in industries dominated by the opposite sex, women and men tend to occupy distinct occupations, with women’s typically being at lower levels than men’s.Note 62 For example, in the accommodation and food services industry, 59.7% of chefs and cooks were men in 2015, while 71.6% of food counter attendants, kitchen helpers and related support personnel were women, as were 71.3% of food and beverage servers.

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National Occupational Classification (NOC)

Occupations in the LFS are coded according to the 2011 National Occupational Classification (NOC) as far back as 1987. This scheme was developed jointly by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) and Statistics Canada, and it is revised periodically to reflect the evolution of occupations and ensure their comparability over time.

The basic principle of the NOC is kind of work performed. Jobs can be assembled into common occupations, and occupations further bundled into groups, when the work usually performed is sufficiently similar. Similarity of the work usually performed is determined by the tasks, duties, and responsibility of a given job. Factors like the material processed or used, the industrial processes and equipment used, the degree of responsibility and complexity of work, and the products made and services provided are used as indicators of the work performed when combining jobs into occupations and occupations into groups.

The NOC 2011 is a four‑tiered hierarchical arrangement of occupational groups with successive levels of disaggregation. It contains ten broad occupational categories (distinguished by a one‑digit code), 40 major (distinguished by a two‑digit code), 140 minor (distinguished by a three‑digit code), and 500 unit groups (distinguished by a four‑digit code). The code assigned to a given occupation or occupational group indicates the higher‑order groups in which it is nested. For example, for a unit group, the first digit of its code indicates the occupational category to which it belongs; the second and third digits indicate the major and minor groups to which it belongs, respectively; and the fourth digit is unique, distinguishing it from other unit groups. 

For more information, please see the National Occupational Classification (NOC) 2011.

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Most women are employed in traditionally‑female occupations

Most women are employed in traditionally‑female occupations—teaching, nursing and related health occupations, social work, clerical or other administrative positions, or sales and services—in which women have been concentrated historically.Note 63 This is reflected in Table 7, which shows the proportion of women and men in the 20 occupations (of 140, based on the three‑digit National Occupational Classification [NOC]) with the greatest concentration of women in 2015. Around 56.0% of women were employed in occupations involving the "5 Cs": caring, clerical, catering, cashiering and cleaning.Note 64 This is little changed from 1987, when 59.2% of women were employed in these occupations. In contrast, 17.1% of men were employed in traditionally‑female occupations in 2015, compared to 15.7% in 1987.

Approximately one‑quarter of those employed in professional occupations in natural and applied science are women

Particular interest is often paid to the share of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, partly because it reflects the sway of gender stereotypes about male and female capabilities that steer boys and girls, men and women toward different educational and career paths.Note 65Note 66 Occupations in these fields also tend to be well‑paid, so a shortage of women in them is thought to play a role in the gender pay gap.Note 67 Using occupations in natural and applied science as a proxy for STEM occupations,Note 68 and focusing on those that usually require a university degree, it is clear that women are under represented by a sizable margin. Specifically, in 2015, 24.4% of the people employed in professional scientific occupations were women, while 75.6% were men (Table 8). This mostly reflects the sub‑group of computer and information systems professionals, which is the largestNote 69 and the most unbalanced in terms of gender after engineering.

Women’s representation in STEM occupations has improved somewhat over time. Specifically, the proportion of women in these occupations grew by 7.0 percentage points between 1987 and 2015 (from 17.4% to 24.4%). Women have gradually made inroads in all types of professional natural and applied scientific occupations, with the exception of those in computer science, where their representation has actually declined over time (Chart 16). From 1987 to 2015, the proportion of women among mathematicians, statisticians and actuaries increased the most, followed by architects, urban planners and land surveyors.

Among professional occupations in natural and applied science, women accounted for the largest share (relative to men) of mathematicians, statisticians and actuaries (67.0%) in 2015, followed by a smaller share of life science professionals (47.0%); architects, urban planners and land surveyors (42.2%); and physical science professionals (41.1%) (Table 8). They accounted for the smallest share of civil, mechanical, electrical and chemical engineers (17.2%) and other engineers (18.2%).

Women are underrepresented in leadership positions in the private sector, although not in the public sector

Women’s representation in leadership positions is also important, as it is suggestive of the extent to which they face obstacles to career advancement that ultimately prevent them from reaching the top positions (i.e., the proverbial "glass ceiling"). According to previous research, among such obstacles are: the association of leadership with assertive, decisive, and independent behaviours that are generally deemed to be the purview of men; entrenched organizational structures and work practices that presuppose the male‑breadwinner/female‑homemaker model of family, and therefore render the combination of earning and caring roles problematic; women’s limited access to informal networks, influential colleagues and mentors related to their organizational roles, their tendency to interact with others of the same sex, and the inclination of men in positions of power to direct opportunities for development to junior men; and the lack of female role models to emulate and serve as mentors, suggesting to women that being female is a barrier to upward occupational mobility.Note 70

Since the 1960s, through the Public Service Commission of Canada, and later the Employment Equity Act as well, the federal government has endeavored to make its workforce representative of the national population by providing employment opportunities to qualified Canadians who have historically been disadvantaged in this regard, including women.Note 71 Beyond federal employment equity legislation, seven provinces have employment equity policies that pertain to provincial public servants: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British ColumbiaNote 72 (Ontario repealed its employment equity legislation in 1995, two years after its creation). Partly as a result of these efforts, gender parity now exists in the public sector with respect to women’s representation in leadership positions. Based on the LFS, in 2015, 54.0% of legislators and senior government managers and officials were women. This represents an improvement over 1987, when the proportion of women in the top public sector positions was 17.2 percentage points less, at 36.8%. In contrast, in 2015, 25.6% of senior managers in the private sector were women—11.3 percentage points more than in 1987.

Women earn $0.87 for every dollar earned by men, largely as a result of wage inequality between women and men within occupations

The gender pay gap is a matter of intense scholarly and popular interest, often being seen as indicative of the broader state of gender equality in society. The size of the gender pay gap depends on the measure of earnings that is used (Chart 17).Note 73 Traditionally, academics (and Statistics Canada) have used the annual earnings of full‑time, full‑year workers. According to that metric, women aged 25 to 54 earned an average of $52,500 in 2014, while their male counterparts earned an average of $70,700.Note 74 These figures correspond to a gender earnings ratio (women: men) of 0.74, meaning that women earned $0.74 for every dollar earned by men. Yet annual earnings are a problematic measure of gender‑based pay inequality, as women work fewer hours on average than men, even on a full‑time, full‑year basis, typically due to their family responsibilities.Note 75 Put differently, when the gender pay gap is measured from the annual earnings of full‑time, full‑year workers, it is confounded by gender differences in work hours. While annual earnings reflect both the price of labour and its quantity, the hourly wages of full‑time workers reflect only the price of labour, and they are therefore closer to the issue of gender‑based discrimination.Note 76 Women earned an average of $25.38 per hour in 2014, while their male counterparts earned an average of $28.92. It follows that women earned $0.88 for every dollar earned by men.Note 77 Thus, the male‑female pay gap calculated on the basis of average hourly earnings is $0.14 smaller than the one calculated on the basis of average annual earnings, as it is not confounded by gender differences in work hours.

The current gender wage ratio represents considerable improvement over previous decades (Chart 17). In 1981, women earned an average of $0.77 for every dollar earned by men.Note 78 The gender wage ratio hovered around the mid‑ to high‑0.70 range until 1994, when it reached 0.82. From the mid‑1990s to the early 2000s, the gender wage ratio remained in the low 0.80 range. In 2004, it reached 0.85, and has stayed in that vicinity to date. In 2015, women were $0.10 closer to every dollar earned by men than their counterparts in 1981.

One of the factors that has contributed to the improvement of the gender wage ratio over time is the increase in women’s educational attainment.Note 79 Gender‑based pay inequality tends to diminish with increasing levels of education (Table 9), and women have sustained a long‑term trend toward higher education.Note 80 Between 1991 and 2015, the proportion of women with a university degree increased by 21.1 percentage points, from 14.0% to 35.1%. The proportion of men with a university degree also increased during this period, but to a lesser extent: 11.2 percentage points, from 17.4% in 1991 to 28.6% in 2015. Yet women have not been able to educate themselves out of gender differences in pay entirely. Even when they had a university degree above the Bachelor’s level, women earned an average of $0.90 for every dollar earned by men in 2015.

The gender pay gap partly owes to the differential allocation of female and male workers across occupations. Women are over‑represented in low‑paying occupations and under‑represented in high‑paying ones.Note 81Note 82 In 2015, 21.2% of women who worked full‑time had occupations with average hourly wages in the bottom 20% of the wage distribution, compared to 17.3% of their male counterparts. Conversely, 25.9% of men who worked full‑time had an occupation with average hourly wages in the top 20% of the wage distribution, compared to 18.3% of their female counterparts. Put differently, women are more likely to have an occupation in the bottom 20% of the wage distribution than they are in the top 20%; the reverse is true for men.

Differences in how female‑dominated occupations are valued, relative to male‑dominated jobs, also contribute to the gender‑based pay inequality.Note 83 Female‑dominated occupations tend to be compensated at lower wage rates than male‑dominated occupations—even when they involve the same skill level (Table 10). Employment and Social Development Canada organizes NOC occupations according to the skill level they usually require: A: university education; B: college education or apprenticeship training; C: secondary school and/or occupation‑specific training; and D: on‑the‑job training. Within these skill levels, women earn less in female‑dominated occupations than men do in male‑dominated occupations. For example, professional occupations in nursing and professional occupations in natural and applied sciences are dominated by women and men, respectively, and both usually require a university education. Even so, the average hourly wage for professional women working in nursing was $35.37 in 2015, while the average hourly wage for professional men working in natural and applied sciences was $39.85—a difference of $4.48. Similarly, administrative and financial supervisors and administrative occupations and industrial, electrical and construction trades are dominated by women and men, respectively, and both usually require a college education or apprenticeship training. The average hourly wage for women in administrative occupations was $25.11, compared to $29.76 for men in construction‑related trades. Given female‑dominated occupations largely resemble work women have traditionally performed in the household, the fact that women in these occupations tend to have lower wages than men in male‑dominated occupations at the same skill level speaks to the devaluation of women’s work in both the private and public spheres.

If the occupational distribution of women was equivalent to that of men, women’s average wages would decrease by $0.01 per hour. It follows that the gender wage ratio would be unchanged.

Men out‑earned women in every occupational group (of 46 at the two‑digit NOC level) in 2015, except for managers and professionals in art, culture, recreation and sport (i.e., librarians, archivists, conservators and curators; writing, translating and related communications professionals; and creative and performing artists) and middle management occupations in production (data not shown). Even in traditionally‑female occupations like teaching, nursing and other health services, clerical or other administration, and sales and services, the average hourly wages earned by men were greater than those earned by women (data not shown). This may reflect a phenomenon referred to in the literature as the "glass escalator," whereby men in female‑dominated occupations are promoted higher and faster than women by virtue of their gender privilege and tokenism.Note 84

Traditionally‑male occupations that usually involve manual labour had the greatest gender wage gap in 2015, with women earning an average of $7.24 less per hour than their male counterparts ($20.23 vs. $27.47). In professional, "white‑collar" occupations, women earned an average of $4.56 less per hour than their male counterparts ($35.32 vs. $39.88). The gender wage gap was similar traditionally‑female occupations in clerical and administration, health services, and education, legal, social and community services, where women earned an average of $4.60 less per hour than their male counterparts ($23.66 vs. $28.26). In retail and service occupations, women earned an average of $4.83 less than their male counterparts ($17.91 vs. $22.74).

Given their occupational distribution, if women earned the same amount as men within occupations, their hourly wages would increase by an average of $2.86 per hour. As a result, the gender wage ratio would nearly reach equality at 0.97. It follows that the gender pay gap owes largely to wage inequality between women and men within occupations, as opposed to the uneven distribution of women and men across occupations.

A number of explanations for the gender wage gap that exists within occupations have been suggested in the academic literature, although none can be evaluated using data collected by Statistics Canada. One interpretation is that women experience wage discrimination on the basis of their gender. In this case, a woman is paid less than her male colleague for doing the exact same job. An alternative or supplementary interpretation is that, within occupational groups, women choose the less demanding and/or more flexible positions in order to accommodate their caregiving responsibilities.Note 85 Women may also be less adept at negotiating their pay or less interested in competing, Note 86 as these attributes are deemed "masculine" in the context of gender socialization.Note 87

The impact of motherhood on women’s wages has lessened

Mothers typically earn less than both women without dependent children and fathers. Previous research demonstrates that this "motherhood penalty" exists at a given point in time and persists over the life course.Note 88Note 89Note 90 In 1997, mothers with at least one child under the age of 18 earned $0.79 for every dollar earned by fathers, and women without children earned $0.88 for every dollar earned by men without children. By 2015, the impact of motherhood on women’s hourly wages had lessened, but not yet disappeared: mothers with at least one child under the age of 18 earned $0.85 for every dollar earned by fathers, while women without children earned $0.90 for every dollar earned by men without children.

Unemployment patterns

From 1976 to 1990, women had a higher unemployment rate than men (Chart 18). However, in 1980, the gender unemployment gap—defined as the difference between the unemployment rates of men and women—began to decrease. By 1991, the gender employment gap had decreased such that it became positive, as women had a lower unemployment rate than men for the first time in recent history. Although this trend continued to present, during the recessions of the early 1990s and late 2000s, the (positive) gender unemployment gap temporarily increased, as the unemployment rate rose more steeply for men than women. This is because the industries that were hardest hit by employment losses during these economic downturns were in the male‑dominated, goods‑producing sector.Note 91Note 92

The decrease in the gender unemployment gap over time may also reflect women’s increasing attachment to the labour market and, conversely, men’s decreasing attachment.Note 93 In effect, women have become less likely to leave the labour force for non‑participation (indicative of greater labour force attachment), while men have become more likely to leave the labour force once unemployed and less likely to rejoin afterward (indicative of weaker labour force attachment).Note 94

Gender unemployment gap tends to be larger in high‑unemployment provinces, smaller in low‑unemployment provinces

As with employment rates, provincial variation exists in unemployment rates. Unemployment rates were generally below the national average in Ontario and the Prairie region, and above the national average in Quebec, the Atlantic region and British Columbia. Given this provincial variability, it is most informative to consider gender differences in unemployment within provinces, as opposed to considering provincial differences within gender. 

The gender unemployment gap differed across the provinces, and it did so in a way that largely paralleled provincial variation in unemployment rates in general (Table 11). In 2015, men’s unemployment rates were higher in the Atlantic region than both their female counterparts and the male national average. As a result, the greatest gender unemployment gaps were observed in Newfoundland and Labrador (4.2 percentage points), New Brunswick (3.7 percentage points) and Nova Scotia (2.4 percentage points). The higher unemployment rates for men, and the resulting gender gaps, in the Atlantic region is a function of the prevalence of high‑seasonality industries in the goods‑producing sector—forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction as well as construction—where far more men are employed than women.Note 95

The gender unemployment gap tended to be smallest in low‑unemployment provinces, where the unemployment rates for women and men were equal to or less than the gender‑corresponding national average in 2015: Ontario (0.3%), Manitoba (0.4%), British Columbia (0.4%), and Alberta (0.6%). The exceptions to this pattern were Saskatchewan (1.1%), Quebec (1.4%) and Prince Edward Island (‑1.6%), for which the moderate size of their gender unemployment gaps places them in‑between the other two groups of provinces.

After dissatisfaction, personal or family reasons were the most common explanation given by women for leaving their job

In 2015, most unemployed people had worked in the past year; however, a greater proportion of men had done so than women (70.7% vs. 58.7%). Conversely, a greater proportion of women were labour force re‑entrants than men, 34.1% vs. 26.1% (Table 12). A greater proportion of women were new job market entrants as well, meaning they had never been employed previously (7.4% vs. 3.2%).

Men had slightly longer unemployment spells on average than women (23.1 weeks vs. 20.3 weeks), so the fact that more women were labour force re‑entrants than men likely reflects women’s greater likelihood of taking maternal/parental leaves upon the birth or adoption of young children or other family‑related leaves. Of women who received Employment Insurance (EI) benefits in 2015, 45.6% received maternal, parental or compassionate care benefits.Note 96 A little more than 3.0% of men who were EI beneficiaries received these types of benefits.

Among unemployed people who worked in the last year, there were gender differences in the reasons for leaving or losing their last job. In 2015, most people were unemployed because they lost their job, as opposed to leaving it; however, a greater proportion of men lost their job (80.3% vs. 70.5%). On the other hand, a greater proportion of women left their job (29.5% vs. 19.7%). After dissatisfaction, personal or family reasons were the most common explanation given by women for leaving their job (19.0%), while it was the least common explanation given by men (8.9%). For the vast majority of women and men, their job loss involved a permanent layoff, as opposed to a temporary one. However, more women were laid off permanently (91.9% vs. 85.7% of men), while more men were laid off temporarily (14.3% vs. 8.1% of women), reflecting men’s over‑representation in highly‑seasonal industries (i.e., agriculture; fishing, mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction; construction; and manufacturing).

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Employment Insurance benefits

The Employment Insurance (EI) program provides temporary benefits to those who have lost their job (regular benefits) or who are unable to work due to illness or injury (sickness benefits), the birth or adoption of a child (maternity benefits and parental benefits), a child’s critical illness (parents of critically ill children benefits), or a family member’s risk of death (compassionate care benefits). The latter five types of benefits are jointly referred to as "special benefits." In addition to regular and special benefits, there are work‑sharing benefits and fishing benefits.

According to the Employment Insurance Coverage Survey (EICS), nearly equivalent proportions of women and men who were separated from their job through leaving, loss, or an unpaid absence were eligible to receive EI benefits in 2015 (44.5% and 45.0%, respectively). To be eligible to receive EI benefits, claimants must meet the minimum requirements set forth by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) for their geographic place of residence, with respect to having a "valid" reason for job separation, insurable employment in the past 12 months, and a sufficient number of accumulated hours since the previous job separation. Most women and men who were ineligible to receive EI benefits had not worked in the past 12 months (or ever) and therefore could not qualify (55.6% and 50.3%, respectively). An additional 22.3% of ineligible women and 23.6% of their male counterparts quit their job without a cause acceptable to the EI program, including school attendance. The remaining 22.1% of ineligible women and 26.1% of ineligible men did not meet the entrance requirements for the EI program, including having insurable employment.

While EI eligibility and reasons for ineligibility are similar for women and men, the types of benefits they receive at a given point in time differ. Based on administrative data from ESDC and Service Canada, 44.7% of female beneficiaries received regular benefits in 2015, while 54.6% received special benefits (Statistics Canada, CANSIM table 276‑0020). Among male beneficiaries, 86.6% received regular benefits and 10.3% received special benefits. The gender disparity in special benefits was more pronounced for parental benefits—91.9% of beneficiaries were women and 8.1% were men—than it was for sickness benefits, where 60.7% of beneficiaries were women and 39.3% were men. Gender differences in the other types of special benefits are suppressed to protect the confidentiality of EI beneficiaries.

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Young women

Youth, as it pertains to the workforce, is conventionally defined as people aged 15 to 24. Although some commentators have highlighted the fact that "youth" encompasses two distinct age groups—teenagers (aged 15 to 19) and twenty‑somethings (aged 20 to 24)—with divergent labour market outcomes,Note 97 this demarcation is used here for statistical consistency internationally.Note 98 

More young women attend school than do young men

Youth tend to have lower rates of labour force participation than people in the core working ages (Chart 19) because they are often still in school.Note 99 In fact, the proportion of young people who are students has increased since 1976, particularly among females. In 1976, 41.2% of young women attended school, as did 45.3% of young men. By 2015, 65.1% of young women and 58.2% of young men attended school—increases of 23.9 percentage points and 12.9 percentage points, respectively. Although students are less likely than non‑students to participate in the labour market, and a greater proportion of young women attended post‑secondary school than young men from 1981 onward, the participation rates of female and male youth have been within 1.0% of each other since 2005.Note 100

Gender employment gap is smaller among youth than it is among people in the core working ages

While the employment rate of women in the core working ages has consistently been lower than that of men, the employment rate for young women was slightly higher than that of young men in 1991, 1992 and from 2002 onward (Chart 20). In fact, the gender gap in employment rates is notably smaller among youth, compared to people aged 25 to 54. In 1976, 51.4% of young women were employed, as were 59.9% of young men—a difference of 8.5 percentage points. The employment rate for women in the core working ages was slightly lower at 48.7%, while the employment rate for men was much higher at 90.4%, corresponding to a difference of 41.7 percentage points. The greater gender employment gap among people in the core working ages in 1976, relative to youth, partially reflects the tendency of women at that time to cease paid work either temporarily or permanently upon marriage or motherhood.Note 101Note 102 In 2015, 57.2% of young women were employed, compared to 54.4% of their male counterparts—a difference of 2.8 percentage points in favor of women. In contrast, 77.5% of women in the core working ages were employed, compared to 85.3% of their male counterparts—a difference of 7.8 percentage points in favor of men. Why is the gender employment gap smaller and in favor of women (i.e., positive) among youth, compared to people in the core working ages? It has much to do with the fact that the ages of 25 to 54 are not only "core" in terms of work, but also "core" in terms of family formation and parenthood. Parenthood tends to move couples toward a more conventional or "gendered" division of labour,Note 103 which in turn impedes women’s participation in the labour market. As youth increasingly delay the transition to parenthood—as they pursue post‑secondary education and establish themselves in paid workNote 104Note 105—labour market disruptions related to childbearing and rearing, which primarily affect women, are also postponed to later ages.

Young women have a lower unemployment rate than young men

Although young adults have long had an unemployment rate that is higher than their counterparts in the core working ages (Chart 21), there is concern that the consequences of the global financial crisis in 2008/2009 have fallen disproportionately on youth.Note 106Note 107 Since youth are usually the first targets of job cuts, their transition from school to work may have become increasingly difficult after the economic downturn. In fact, the level of youth unemployment recorded at the height of the recent recession (15.4% in 2009) was notably lower than that recorded during two previous recessions in the early 1980s (19.2% in 1983) and early 1990s (17.2% in both 1992 and 1993). Further, the youth unemployment rate has largely recovered to pre‑recession levels. Even so, as it currently stands, the youth unemployment rate is more than double that of the core working ages: 5.8% vs. 13.2%.Note 108 Besides the immediate consequences of unemployment, such as economic hardship and mental distress,Note 109 there are longer‑term consequences such as human capital erosionNote 110 and diminished self‑confidence.Note 111 Hence, youth unemployment leads to "scarring" in the form of lower pay and higher unemployment in later life, reduced life chances, and poorer mental health.Note 112Note 113

Since 1991, women have consistently fared better than men in terms of unemployment, having lower rates (and shorter durations). Among youth, these gender differences are exacerbated. While the gender gap in unemployment rates was less than 1.0 percentage point in favor of women among the core working ages in 2015 (6.2% for men vs. 5.4% for women), it was 3.7 percentage points in favor of women among youth, at 15.0% for men vs. 11.3% for women (Chart 21).Note 114

There are at least two explanations for the fact that the gender unemployment gap among youth is negative (meaning that young women are less likely to be unemployed than young men). First, women are over-represented in industries with the greatest concentration of youth: retail trade and accommodation and food services (data not shown). Second, given that young men are less likely than their female counterparts to pursue post‑secondary education, there may be gender differences in the type of work sought, translating to gender differences in the difficulty associated with finding work. Nationally, 61.1% of unemployed young men were non‑students in 2015, compared to 44.8% of their female counterparts. It follows that a larger proportion of young men were looking for full‑time work than young women (53.0% vs. 40.5%). Full‑time work may be harder to obtain—judging by both the duration of young men’s unemployment being nearly two weeks longer than young women’s and information on job vacancies by industry. While the proportion of job vacancies was highest (and the average offered hourly wages the lowest) in retail trade and accommodation and food services,Note 115 which are the industries with the greatest concentration of youth, these were also industries with high proportions of part‑time positions.

Additional evidence that young men may find it harder to find full‑time work comes from gender differences in the proportion of part‑time workers who work less than 30 hours per week for reasons other than personal ones (i.e., "involuntarily"). Slightly more young men were involuntary part‑time workers in 2015, at 20.4% vs. 18.7% for women.

Older women

As medical advances and lifestyle changes have improved population health and longevity, a new life stage has recently emerged in later adulthood after career building, known as the "third age" or "encore."Note 116 In contrast to the conventional, post‑war view in which retirement involves a permanent exit from full‑time employment and entry into total leisure, the bonus years of healthy life expectancy are increasingly used to pursue meaningful engagements in education, paid work, volunteerism or other informal forms of helping out.Note 117

Labour force participation rates generally decline with age, as increasing proportions of people retire. For this reason, older people—defined as those 55 years and over—have lower participation rates than people in the core ages (Chart 22). Among older people, women have lower participation rates than men, owing to both cohort and age‑of‑retirement effects. Women in earlier birth cohorts had lower participation rates across the life course, reflecting traditional gender norms regarding the division of labour within conjugal families (i.e., male breadwinner/female homemaker). Regardless of birth cohort, women tend to retire at younger ages than men. For example, in 2015, the average age of retirement for women was 62.7 compared to 64.1 for men. Together, these factors largely explain older women’s lower participation rates, relative to their male counterparts.

Employment rate of older women has risen to a greater extent than that of older men

The employment rate of older women was fairly consistent from 1976 through to the late 1990s, averaging 16.1% (Chart 23). Over the same period, the employment rate of older men trended downward, from 45.4% in 1976 to 31.3% in 1999, narrowing the gender employment gap among older people in the process. Around the early 2000s, the employment rates of both older women and men commenced an upward trend. Older women’s employment increased somewhat more than their male counterparts between 2000 and 2015, further narrowing the gender employment gap. By 2015, the employment rate of older women was 30.0%—13.1 percentage points higher than it was in 1976. The employment rate of older men was 40.8% in 2015—9.1 percentage points higher than it was in 2000, yet 4.6 percentage points lower than in 1976.

Older women have a lower unemployment rate than both older men and core‑age women

Older women and men generally have lower unemployment rates than their counterparts in the core ages, as many of them will have saved enough money in the course of their employment to retire after leaving or losing a job. After three decades of trending fairly closely, the unemployment rates of older women and men diverged after the global economic downturn of 2008/2009 (Chart 24). In 1976, 4.3% of older women and 3.8% of their male counterparts were unemployed, corresponding to a gender unemployment gap of half a percentage point. In 2009, 5.4% of older women were unemployed, as were 7.5% of older men, corresponding to a gender unemployment gap of 2.1 percentage points in favor of females. By 2015, this gap was reduced to 1.0 percentage point in favor of females, as the unemployment rate of older men decreased to 6.2%. The unemployment rate of older women was virtually unchanged.

The divergence of the unemployment rates of older women and men following the global economic downturn reflects the fact that men over the age of 45 were more likely to be laid‑off during the most recent recession, relative to previous recessions in the early 1980s and the early 1990s.Note 118 Women were generally less likely to be laid‑off in each of these recessions.Note 119

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