This article was originally published in Maclean's Magazine on August 21, 1995
StatsCan Reports on Women
Women now make up slightly more than half of all people living in Canada. In fact, in 1991, the last census year, 50.4 per cent of the total population was female, compared with 50.2 per cent in 1981 and 48.4 per cent in 1921. But while the growing number of Canadian women have made some significant gains in terms of gender equality in recent years, a Statistics Canada report released last week, entitled "Women in Canada," reveals that there remains considerable room for further advancement - especially on the economic front. "Clearly, the situation for women has improved dramatically over the course of the last two decades," Colin Lindsay, the editor of the report, told Maclean's. "However, there are still very significant and substantial gaps left between most of the major social indicators for women and men."
The 180-page report, compiled from a vast array of sources and the first of its kind in five years, attempts to paint a very broad portrait of Canada's female population - and covers such areas as education, income and employment. Overall, it seems to indicate that in the 1990s, Canadian women enjoy mixed blessings. While they are working outside of the home in record numbers, females on average still earn substantially less than their male counterparts. And while their numbers have increased in several professions once considered the exclusive domain of men, a significant majority continue to work in traditionally female-dominated jobs. Furthermore, they constitute a disproportionate share of the country's low-income population - a problem that is especially acute among visible minorities and aboriginal people. "It's quite shocking," says Sue Genge, a vice-president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. "While there have been some tiny steps forward, there is an awful lot of standing still - or going backwards."
Over the past two decades, the StatsCan survey found, there has been a substantial growth in the number of women employed in the labor force. In 1994, 52 per cent of all women over the age of 15 held jobs, up from 42 per cent in 1976. (At the same time, the proportion of men with jobs dropped significantly, from 73 per cent in 1976 to 65 per cent in 1994.) There has also been a dramatic rise in the number of working mothers. Between 1981 and 1994, the employment rate for women with children under the age of 16 rose from 50 per cent to 63 per cent.
Women now represent 45 per cent of all paid workers in Canada, up from 37 per cent in 1976 - although 26 per cent of working women hold part-time jobs compared with just nine per cent of employed men. And last year, 34 per cent of all women working part time indicated that they wanted full-time work but were unable to find positions. That figure was up significantly from the 22 per cent who were in the same bind in 1989.
Over the past decade, the study found, women have made inroads in several professional fields in which very few have worked in the past. For instance, in 1994, women held 43 per cent of management and administrative positions, up from only 29 per cent in 1982. StatsCan also reported substantial growth in the number of women employed as health professionals. Females made up 32 per cent of all doctors and dentists in 1994, compared with only 18 per cent in 1982. And 57 per cent of all professionals employed in social sciences or religion last year were female, up from 43 per cent in 1982. "There has been a vast improvement for women" says Gwen Landolt, national vice president of the conservative women's group real Women of Canada. "More and more women are entering university and are going up the management pipeline. More of us are entering traditionally male fields. It is only in the past generation that this has happened."
Nevertheless, StatsCan found that women remain a significant minority among professionals employed in the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics, holding only 19 per cent of jobs in those fields. And despite changes in the workplace, the vast majority of working women continue to hold traditional "female jobs." According to the StatsCan report, 70 per cent of all working women were employed in either teaching, nursing and related health occupations, clerical positions or sales and service occupations in 1994 - compared with just 31 per cent of employed men. That figure, however, is down from 1982, when 77 per cent of the female workforce was employed in those female-dominated occupations.
The most significant differences between women and men remain economic. In 1993, the average annual pretax income of women over the age of 15 from all sources was $16,500 - just 58 per cent of the average income of men ($28,600). And in the same year, women employed on a full-time, full-year basis earned an average of $28,392 - only 72 per cent of the figure for males. There have been improvements, however. In 1990, women, on average, earned only 68 per cent as much as men, StatsCan says, and in the early 1980s it was about 64 per cent. But, as the report points out, the narrowing of the gap has resulted as much from men earning less as from women earning more. From 1989 to 1993, women employed full time earned on average eight percentage points more and men two percentage points less, StatsCan says. And women's earnings remain lower than men's at all levels of education, the federal agency found. But the economic gulf does not end there. In 1993, StatsCan reported, 56 per cent of all people living in low-income situations were women. And 20 per cent of the total female population, compared with 16 per cent of men, were low-income earners. Certain groups of women, the study reported, are particularly likely to be economically disadvantaged. In 1993, 56 per cent of single seniors, 64 per cent of unattached women between 15 and 24 and 60 per cent of female single parents were low-income. Meanwhile, in 1990, 28 per cent of visible minority women and 33 per cent of aboriginal women lived in similar circumstances.
Working women, furthermore, continue to juggle the demands of both family and career. According to StatsCan, in 1992, employed women with a spouse and at least one child under the age of 5 spent, on average, 5.3 hours a day on household chores - including domestic work, child care and shopping. That is about two hours more per day than their male partners spend on unpaid household work. "We would love to have equality with the homemaking," says real Women's Landolt. "Sure, I think more men are involved, but it still seems to be a worldwide phenomenon that the home is primarily the woman's responsibility." As the statistics show, women undeniably have come a long way. But there are not many of them who argue that there is no way left to go.
Maclean's August 21, 1995