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Gender Inequality

Overview

A new report on incomes, jobs and professions show women still have a long way to go.

The gender gap is much wider than is commonly believed - women’s incomes are 61% of men’s, despite years of trying to close the gender gap. Two decades of women’s progress has resulted in marginal improvements. Women’s average incomes have risen by less than $3,000 – significant perhaps, but still far short of men’s. In 1998 (the most recent data available), women have average (or median) incomes of $13,806 while men’s incomes average at $22,673. The study reveals that this income gap persists across age, educational attainment, labour market situation and family type.

Women are over-represented in the ranks of the poor and under-represented among upper income earners. They are segregated by occupation, having too few good jobs and too many contingent jobs. They are additionally marginalized if they are women of colour, aboriginal, with disabilities, younger or older. For women raising children alone, they bear tremendous poverty rates. When examining how many women make it to the ranks of the wealthy, the study reveals that not many do. Women are under-represented by almost a 3-fold factor in the top 20% of Canadian earners. Only 11% of women get into the top 20%, whereas 29% of men access upper incomes of $32,367 and beyond. Strongly related to this trend is occupational segregation. Women also are still denied access to many of the prime high paying professions and jobs. Women made up only 5% of skilled trades, 10% of fire and police forces and a meager 21% of senior managers. The barriers to women’s employment must be significant to have such results. One such barrier is access to post secondary education where skyrocketing tuition and erosion of scholarships means women are denied such access.

Not surprisingly, women are over-represented among the contingent work force. This is the fastest growing sector for women’s employment, where the wages are low and the work is part-time, non-unionized and insecure. Women in this category earn median incomes of less than $11,000. This category also includes self-employment where women have median incomes that are only 59% that of men’s.

One bright spot in terms of women’s equality is in the results found for women who work in unionized environments. Women make 82% of men’s incomes in such environments – even when comparing full time, full year employment. When assessing the impact of unionization, the study reveals that non-unionized environments create a wider gender gap – women make only 72% of men’s incomes in such environments.

Unionized settings do much for women’s equality – and, as such, are a recommended strategy for reducing inequality. Other policy recommendations include improving the minimum wage to levels above the poverty line, implementing a national child care strategy and providing free post-secondary tuition. Underlying these initiatives is the building of a core commitment to actively prohibit discrimination. Policies such as pay equity and employment equity are fundamental requirements.

Additional startling statistics:

  • The poverty rates for women in general is 20%, for women of colour is 37% and for aboriginal women 43%
  • Women in couples with children under 16 had median incomes that were only 48 per cent of their male partners. Their median incomes were $13,153.
  • Women aged 45-64 made only 51 per cent of their male counterparts. Their median after-tax income was only $14,779. As retirement income is a function of lifetime earnings, women’s low income in this age group means they will be at great risk of poverty in retirement.
  • Women in the Atlantic provinces had the lowest incomes in Canada. Their median after-tax income was $11,235.
  • Thirty-five per cent of Canadian women have not completed high school and 72 per cent of these women had median after-tax incomes under $13,786.

Statistical studies of low income generally focus on the family. Using the family as the unit of measure hides the rate of women’s economic inequality as men’s higher incomes (due in part to men’s greater likelihood of having higher paid, fullyear, full-time jobs) is likely to raise the total family income above the Statistics Canada measures of low income. This report looks at the frequency with which women, whether they are in relationships or not, earn lower incomes in comparison with men.