Sex and Gender-based Analysis of this topic


Education is the gradual acquisition of knowledge, skills and values through formal instruction or other informal teachings such as hands-on experience [1]. ‘Educational attainment’, a common measure of education, refers to the highest level of schooling a person has attained in elementary and secondary school, or post-secondary education completed (e.g., trades, college, university), as well as certificates or diplomas obtained [2]. Although only a measure of formal learning, educational attainment is important since grade 12 is a requirement for most jobs in Canada, and many positions require post-secondary education or training [3]. Education is important to women’s health because it facilitates better access, understanding and use of health-related information [4,5]. Education also affects women’s health through its influence on employment and income.

Sex Issues

Young women are less likely to drop out of high school than males [6]. Canadian girls are more likely than boys to complete high school, women are more likely than men to have an undergraduate degree, and just as likely to have a graduate degree [7]. In 2006, there were approximately 778,305 more university graduates in Canada compared to 2001 and women accounted for nearly three-quarters of the increase. Women’s progress is evident in the educational attainment of successive generations.

Thirty-three percent of women aged 25 to 34 years had a university degree, compared to 25% of their male counterparts, whereas the sexes differed little among those aged 35 to 54. Only women aged 55 to 64 were less likely to hold a university degree than men of the same age (16% versus 21%, respectively) [8]. The number of women with college diplomas exceeds the figures for men in all age groups. Regardless of age, the majority of trade certificates are held by men [9]. Young women are more likely than men to go straight from high school to post-secondary education of some kind [10]. Almost half of recent doctoral graduates were women, but there remains large differences in terms of the field of study[11].

Gender Issues
Increasing educational parity between women and men and the higher earnings that women with university degrees make have positive health outcomes for women. Nevertheless, having a university degree does not guarantee equity or the opportunity for appropriate employment for women [4]. Many women have to balance their education with familial responsibilities, including making satisfactory childcare arrangements, attending to other childrearing needs, and completing domestic chores while trying to meet academic deadlines and requirements [12]. Further advances in women’s educational attainment will require initiatives that support women in balancing complex roles with their needs for education and skills.

Dramatic improvements in school attendance rates over the last 25 years including considerable declines in drop-out rates show that more young Canadians are staying in school [6]. Nevertheless, drop out rates are still relatively high in some pockets of the Canadian population, including youth that either come from mixed families or single-parent households, carry responsibilities for paid employment during the school year, or lack a parent with higher education [8]. Young mothers are less likely to complete high school and more likely to face unemployment, low wages, and poverty [13]. Young women who become pregnant report significant difficulties in balancing their own education with their responsibilities as mothers, in addition to reporting lack of social support and discriminating attitudes from some schools [13]. The children of young mothers have been found to do less well in school as well, signalling long-lasting inter-generational effects [14].

The educational attainment of Aboriginal women is improving, but still lags significantly behind that for women in the general population. However, among Aboriginal peoples, women are more likely than Aboriginal men to attain higher levels of education. Given that a large proportion of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples are under the age of 14 years and are expected to join the labour market over the next 20 years, there is some cause for concern regarding the staggering rates of low educational attainment and youth drop-out.

Twenty-five percent of Aboriginal women cited pregnancy or the need to take care of children as the reason why they left school [15]. Aboriginal women’s education is influenced by the legacy of colonization and residential schooling and a long history of conflict between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cultures, which has led to distrust and resentment of a system primarily run by non-Aboriginal, middle-class people [15].


Greater improvements in women’s education and literacy may be achieved by identifying and understanding the reasons why individual women leave high school or post-secondary schooling, as well as factors hindering their return to school. For instance, girls as young as 13 years are known to drop out of school due to pregnancy, yet the exclusion of girls younger than age 15 from statistical reports limits our ability to understand the impact pregnancy and child care responsibilities have on education [8].

Age-appropriate reporting could improve the utility of statistics on youth. For example, given that most youth do not complete high school until they reach at least 17 years, the rate of high school completion for youth in the 15 to 19 years category may be difficult to interpret.

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health determinants > education