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Women in the labour market: Increased potential, pay, and participation

October 27, 2023, 11:00 a.m. (EDT)

October is Women’s History Month in Canada, celebrating women and girls’ past, present and future.

Among other achievements, it’s an opportunity to reflect on and consider women’s labour market potential, pay, and participation, which have increased over the years—though there is still room for improvement. Let’s have a look at some key numbers and analysis.

Human capital: Closing the gender gap

A Statistics Canada study from April 2023 takes a deeper look at the concept of human capital, which represents individuals’ knowledge and skills that come from education, training and experience, measured as the present value of future earnings. It also takes into account non-market activities, such as caring for children and elders.

While on average, women’s human capital during the period from 1970 to 2020 was lower than men’s, the analysis shows that the gender gap declined over that period.

In fact, about half of the growth during that period is accounted for by women. On a per-capita basis, women’s average human capital rose from 30% of men’s in 1970 to 70% in 2019.

This proportion rose to as high as 84% in 2019 among women with a graduate degree, and 76% among those aged 15 to 34—reflecting the power of education, as well as more earnings potential among younger women.

The study also found an increase in contribution in human capital from the immigrant population. After 1995, immigrants accounted for 40% of the overall growth in human capital, compared with 18% before 1995. However, the proportion of that growth attributable to immigrant women declined by 12 percentage points.

Gender wage gap narrows for most women

Recent analysis from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) found that while men still earn more than women, this gap has continued to narrow, from 16% in 2007 to 12% by 2022 among paid workers aged 20 to 54 years.

A key factor of the narrowing gap has been the improvement of labour market qualifications. In fact, the educational attainment of women has surpassed most men. In 2022, the proportion of Canadian-born women with a bachelor’s degree was higher than that of Canadian-born men with a bachelor’s degree (41% vs. 27%).

In 2022, proportions were higher for immigrant women who landed as adults (59%), and who landed as children (49%). Although the proportion was lower for Indigenous women (25%), it was nearly double what it was in 2007 (13%).

Gender wage gaps were larger among full-time workers than those working part-time, and higher among Indigenous women than among non-Indigenous women. They were smaller among men and women who did not live in a couple, and did not have children, and larger when the presence and age of children are considered.

Other factors include whether women were covered by a collective bargaining agreement, and what sector they worked in.

Increased composition on boards, and in officer positions

In 2020, about one in five (20.5%) directors of Canadian corporations were women, up from 17.9% in 2017.

Close to one in three (31.4%) officers, who lead the day-to-day operations of a corporation, were women in 2020, up from 29.2% in 2017.

Labour force participation up

On an annual basis, the labour force participation rate for women aged 15 years and older and all education levels grew from 58.5% in 1990 (the beginning of the current data series) to 61.5% in 2022. The rate for men declined from 76.1% to 69.5% over the same period.

According to the latest LFS data, there were 9.6 million women employed in Canada in September 2023, up 2.7% from September 2022. Over the same period, there was a 2.9% increase to 10.6 million men employed.

The unemployment rate in September 2023 for was 5.3% for women, and 5.8% for men.

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