Labour Force Participation

Sex and Gender-based Analysis of this topic


Labour force participation refers to the number of individuals in the population aged 15 and older who are employed (includes self-employed, working on a family farm, business, or as a professional) or unemployed (limited to those looking for work or starting work shortly) [1]. Higher employment contributes to income equity, financial security, and social support, with positive influences on women’s health, whereas poor work conditions, lack of job security, limited control over one’s work, sexual harassment, overwork, and other conditions may undermine women’s health [2]. Rates of part-time employment, reasons for part-time work, unionization rates, and wage gaps are important in terms of women’s socioeconomic wellbeing and health.

Sex Issues

Despite dramatic improvements in the 1970s and 1980s, Canadian women are still less likely to participate in the labour force. According to the 2001 Census of Canada, 60.5% of females (age 15+) participated in the labour force compared to 72.7% of males [3]. Compared to men, women are less likely to be employed and much more likely to work part time. In 2004, 27% of Canadian women in the workforce were part-time employees compared to only 11% of men [4]. Although women are less likely to be unemployed than men, standard unemployment rates do not account for the larger proportion of women who are unable to seek work and, thus, are not counted among the unemployed. In Manitoba, 5.7% of women are unemployed compared to 6.3% of men [5].

Two-thirds of employed Canadian women continue to work in occupations in which women have traditionally been concentrated (i.e., teaching, nursing and related health, clerical/ administrative, sales, and service) [4]. In fact, there has been no change in the proportion of women employed in these traditionally female-dominated occupations over the past decade [2]. A gender wage gap persists; in 2004, Canadian women with full time work earned 83% of men’s hourly wages [6], though the gap is larger for women in male-dominated sectors and private industry [7]. Further, many women still earn less than men with a similar level of education. For example, based on 2005 data, young women with no high school diploma and those with a registered apprenticeship or trades certificate earned .67 and .65 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts, respectively [8].

Gender Issues

Women’s low incomes are due to several inter-related factors, including gender barriers to paid work, occupational segregation, low wages, work-family conflicts, and difficulty in escaping part-time, seasonal, or intermittent work [9]. While education is an important factor in increasing women’s labour force participation and income, women who have completed college and university still face systemic discrimination in the labour market [9].

Women’s lower rates of labour force participation are partly due to women’s greater unpaid care-giving responsibilities. Women may leave the labour force, delay labour force entry, or not enter the labour force at all in order to raise children or to care for aging or disabled family members. The gender wage gap has been explained as a consequence of women exiting and re-entering the labour force more often over their lifetimes than men [10]. As women in part time work often lack job security, have lower hourly wages than full-time employees, greater job dissatisfaction [2], and are often ineligible for benefits (e.g., extended health care, pension plans), part time work has clear implications for women’s well-being.

Labour force participation varies considerably among women according to age, region, and socioeconomic status. The gender gap in labour force participation and employment is greatest among those aged 65 years and older and smallest among the youngest age group [7]. Regional differences generally reflect limited opportunities for paid employment in many rural, remote, and northern communities compared to urban centres [9]. Although education is a great equalizer for women, the gender gap in labour force participation is highest among those with less than high school education. In Manitoba, 40% of women and 59% of men with less than high school education were active in the labour force compared to 82.3% and 84.6% among women and men with university degrees, respectively [3].
Aboriginal peoples' marginalization from today's economy is tied to the legacy of colonization and persistent racism [11, 12]. Aboriginal women’s labour force participation rates are low, especially among Registered First Nations women. In Manitoba, only 53.8% of Aboriginal women aged 15 years and older were in the labour force, compared to 64.8% of Aboriginal men, 62.7% of non-Aboriginal women and 74.8% of non-Aboriginal men. Aboriginal women generally have higher educational attainment and experience lower levels of unemployment than Aboriginal men in all age groups [11].
The data on unemployment does not provide clarification as to whether extent mothers have exited the labour market because they choose to, are discouraged from finding work, or are unable to find suitable childcare in order to work for pay. Statistics Canada has developed a more comprehensive measure of unemployment, which accounts for discouraged workers, involuntary part-time workers and/or the underemployed, and those awaiting a recall to work in more than four weeks [2]. By this measure, women’s rates of unemployment are considerably higher than standard rates (e.g., 8.2% versus 5.7% for Manitoba women) and exceed the rates for men [5]. However, this measure is not widely used and, thus, the barriers to women’s, Aboriginal peoples', and other socially marginalized groups’ employment and the extent of their exclusion from paid work are often unacknowledged.
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