Wage gap worsening in Canada: Report

But expert questions accuracy, logic behind numbers comparing men, women
By Sabrina Nanji
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/01/2016

Wages for women in Canada are falling short and getting worse with time, according to a joint report from Oxfam and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

While the existence of a gender wage discrepancy is nothing new in employment circles, the gap is widening in Canada. For instance, in 2009, women earned 74.4 per cent of what men earned; in 2011, it was 72 per cent. The report also noted the gap is worse for marginalized groups, including Aboriginal and racialized women. 

“Social inequality has become a perverse benefit in our upside down world, where the fact that women are paid less than men is good for profits,” said Katie McInturff, a senior researcher at CCPA. 

“Global economic growth is not leading to gender equality.”

Making Women Count looked at how women in Canada and around the world are affected by rising inequality. It included the burden of unpaid work, such as domestic duties, and the undervaluing of work in fields dominated by women (such as education and health care). 

The report also covered the unspoken social norms that see men offered higher wages and rates of promotion than women.

“Women continue to bear the burden of unpaid work,” it said. “In low- and middle-income countries, women spend three times as many hours as men on unpaid care work each day. The situation in Canada is only slightly better, with women performing nearly twice as many hours of paid work each as do men.”

Industries traditionally dominated by women are also undervalued, according to the report. In trucking, for instance, the labour force is comprised mostly of men who are paid an average of $45,417 per year, compared to early childhood educators, mostly women, who are paid $25,252 annually. 

Improving childcare and health care is one way to help unburden women in the workforce and level the playing field, said McInturff. 

Legislation is a good start, she said, adding employers can also make moves to help make the situation better for women. That includes having a daycare on-site or lucrative child-care benefits. 

The benefits go beyond social ones, said McInturff. For example, boosting women in the workforce translates economically because they will be earning more and, therefore, spending more money which, in turn, will improve her community. 

“In a world where so many women are still left behind, addressing the unequal economics of women’s work will have a transformative impact on our economy,” she said. 

Discrimination not the cause

Though the wage gap may be undeniable, its factors and causes are somewhat more difficult to pin down. 

Discrimination is not the main cause of any discrepancies, at least in Ontario, said Ben Eisen, associate director of provincial prosperity studies at the Fraser Institute.

In looking at the study, he said the myth of such a huge discrepancy springs from a crude comparison of the average annual earnings for all earners, which ignores key variables such as tenure, hours worked and education.

“In other words, comparably skilled, educated and experienced men and women working similar numbers of hours in similar professions tend to earn about the same amount of money.” 

It is possible a discrepancy is felt by a small group because of “statistical discrimination” driven by the fact some employers prefer to hire young men over young women because women are more likely to take time off for child care or pregnancy, said Eisen. 

But the implications go beyond juicy wage-gap headlines making the news, he said.

“There are legitimate conversations to be had about the effect of gender discrimination on women’s employment prospects and the appropriate policy response, but these are not aided by the repetition of misleading statistics that give a grossly overstated impression of the extent and nature of the problem.”

Ontario report

The Ontario labour ministry conducted a report last fall and found women were overrepresented in lower-paying occupations and industries and made up a disproportionate number of employees in minimum wage and part-time positions. 

The report came as part of the Liberal government’s Gender Wage Gap Strategy to lessen the differences. The province has said it will look to Nordic countries such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, where gender wage gaps are among the smallest in the world for a blueprint. 

“The gender wage gap is an issue of fairness. It could also undermine the competitiveness of Ontario businesses and the province’s potential for economic growth,” said the report. 

“The issue of how to make progress toward closing the gender wage gap and better the situation for women at work is complex. It will require collaboration between government, business, labour, other organizations and individual leaders.”

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