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Published April 2006

Women at Work: a Look at the Past 25 Years

By CO Staff

Women today are more likely to have a university degree and a higher profile in professional fields than they did 25 years ago. However, women continue to have substantially lower earnings than their male counterparts and the majority of women continue to work in jobs where women have traditionally been concentrated.

These findings come from the 300 page Women in Canada: A Gender-Based Statistical Report, which was released by Statistics Canada in March 2006. The report assesses the current situation for Canadian women, providing a statistical overview of their:

  • demographic characteristics
  • family arrangements
  • health
  • education
  • employment and unpaid work activity
  • income
  • housing
  • criminal victimization

Here is an overview of the key findings from Women in Canada: A Gender-Based Statistical Report.

A profile of women at work
The number of women in the paid workforce has grown over the last 25 years, with 58% of all women aged 18 and over part of the paid workforce in 2004 compared to 42% in 1976. During the same period the number of employed men fell from 73% to 68%. Women now make up over half of those employed in both diagnostic and treatment positions in medicine, related health professions and in business and financial professions.

The quality of jobs has improved, with 37% of women now in management positions compared to 30% in 1987. However, all of the growth occurred between 1987 and 1996; there was a slight dip in the number of women in management positions between 1996 and 2004. As well, yet women tend to be better represented in lower-level management positions as opposed to senior positions.

Two thirds of all women remain employed in traditional jobs for women: teaching, nursing or related health occupations, clerical or administrative position, sales and service occupations. Women remain a minority in the traditional science professions of engineering, mathematics and the natural science.

There has been a dramatic rise in both the number of working women with young children and women who are single parents. Sixty-five per cent of women with children under the age of three worked in 2004, which was more than doubled the proportion in 1976. One thing that has not changed in the last 25 years is the proportion of women employed part-time, with women accounting for 70% of all part-time employees.

Wages for women
Women working full-time on a full year basis earn an average of $36,500 annually, which is 71% of what their male counterparts earned on average. This wage gap has changed little in the last decade.

Statistics Canada uses the 'low income cut-off' (LICO), commonly known as the poverty line, to define the income level at which a family will find itself in 'straigtened' or difficult circumstances because it must spend a greater proportion of its income on necessities than the average family of a similar size.

In 2003 31% of unattached women aged 16 and over lived in low income and 38% of all families headed by a single mother had incomes that fell below the poverty line. In comparison, this was true for 13% of single fathers and just 7% of two-parent families with children. However, there have still been improvements in the number of single mothers living in poverty compared to the early 1980s, when approximately 50% lived were considered to be low-income families. Another change is that now seniors were the least likely unattached women to have low incomes, which is a significant change from the situation in the early 1980s.

Visible minorities
One in seven women is a visible minority, with 75% of women who were members of a visible minority living in either Ontario or British Columbia. While visible minority women are better educated on average than other Canadian women (21% of visible minority women aged 15 or older had a university degree, compared with 14% of other women) they were less likely to be employed. Those who were employed generally earned less than other women.

Women in Canada: A Gender-Based Statistical Report (89-503-XPE, $49) is available in print from Statistics Canada.

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