Women Wage Earners now Outnumber Men for the First Time in History

September 5, 2009, 8:00 AM EST


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For the first time in history, including during both of the World Wars, employed women in Canada now outnumber employed men, according to a CAW analysis of the annual unionization study by Statistics Canada released in time for Labour Day.

"This is an important milestone that leaves little doubt that women's position in the labour market has dramatically changed since women first entered the workforce en masse," said Julie White, CAW Director of Women's Programs. "Across the country, women are making a critical contribution to the economy, their families and their communities."

An average 7.123 million women and 6.963 million men were employed during the first half of 2009 (January to June, from Statistics Canada Labour Force Surveys, Table 1 of the Unionization study, including salaried and waged workers, excluding self-employed). The larger numbers of women hold true for both the "under 25 years" and "25 years and over" age cohorts. The study does not look at labour force participation rates which would include all Canadians who are actively looking for employment.

Even during the Second World War, when large numbers of men were on military leave and masses of women entered into paid employment, there were still significantly more men than women employed in the civilian labour force.

The Statistics Canada study also shows that the number of unionized women exceeds the number of unionized men, as has been the case since 2006.

There are comparatively more employed women in large part because so many men have lost their jobs during this economic crisis, particularly in the manufacturing and primary resource sectors. These men are now unemployed or forced into early retirement or self-employment. Without an industrial strategy for Canada, it is unclear how this employment will be recovered to any significant degree.

"This segregation of the labour force by gender has become increasingly significant with changes in the underlying structure of the Canadian economy," said economist Marjorie Griffin Cohen.

"Since the first free-trade agreement with the US, and subsequently with NAFTA, the Canadian economy relies more heavily on exports, now at about 36% of GDP. Males dominate all of the export industries, and it these industries in the resource and manufacturing sectors that have been hardest hit by the economic crisis, resulting in a high level of male unemployment. 

The most dramatic drop in women's employment in manufacturing occurred as a result of the FTA and NAFTA, so that few women work in this sector now," said Griffin Cohen, who is also a professor in Department of Political Science and Chair of Women's Studies Department at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.

The relative increase in women's employment is also explained by gender ghettos.  Women's employment is concentrated in jobs like sales, clerical work, health care, education, hospitality and social services where much of the job growth has been happening.

"The jobs performed by women are also some of the lowest paid jobs in the labour market, often with minimal employment benefits and pensions, plagued by part-time work, erratic schedules and temporary contracts," said White.

"If our economic recovery assumes a reliance on such jobs and if social supports like a national child care program remain a distant promise, then women's lot cannot be said to have really improved greatly nor will it improve in the future."

CAW's summary of the unionization study can be found at: http://www.caw.ca/en/7818.htm

 

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