Last 30 years bring gains for young working women; for men, not so much

OTTAWA – The last three decades have been generally good for younger Canadian women in the work force — or at least much better than their male counterparts — a new analysis suggests.

A Statistics Canada comparison of employment trends from 1981 to 2012 shows working women in the 25-34 age group have seen an across the board improvement in employment prospects over the three decades.

Young Canadian women have lower unemployment rates today than they did, more of them are employed full-time, and they are paid better in real inflation-adjusted dollars.

For men in the same age group, however, the results were at best mixed, depending on where they were living.

Those in the oil-producing provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland saw their wages rise, but they still had lower full-time employment rates in 2012 than they had in 1981.

And for those in the other provinces, there was nothing mixed about their outcomes. They saw their situation deteriorate in all three key categories — higher unemployment, lower incidence of full-time jobs, and lower wages.

Labour economist Stephen Weir of the United Steelworkers union said the steady decline of Canada’s manufacturing sector likely accounts for at least part of the poor performance among young male workers.

“Manufacturing is a male-dominated industry that traditionally paid good wages,” he said. “(And) manufacturing has been cut in half as a share of Canadian employment, from 19 per cent to just under 10 per cent” over the period.

Weir also cautioned that the data looks better than it is among young women workers, noting that their improved outcomes was largely “catching up.”

In fact, despite the closing of the gap, 61.7 per cent of women aged 25 to 34 held a full-time job last year, a big improvement from 1981’s tally of 47.7 per cent.

But although the participation rate for men in the age group dropped almost nine percentage points over the past three decades, at 78.5 per cent it is still significantly higher than for similarly-aged women workers.

In terms of pay, the median hourly wage for women rose 13 per cent during the period, whereas for men in the 25-34 age group, it fell four per cent in real terms.

The results were somewhat gloomier for those under 25. For those young Canadians entering the workforce, things have just gotten worse for both genders, although the deterioration has been more dramatic for men.

Analysts have noted that Canadians in the 15-24 age group still have not recovered all the job losses sustained during the 2008-09 recession — the only age group that remains below pre-slump levels — but the most recent analysis suggests that the bigger decline occurred earlier.

“Most of the deterioration in the full-time employment rates and wages of young Canadians took place during the 1980s and 1990s,” the agency said in its report issued Thursday. “These labour market indicators improved during most of the 2000s, but not enough to fully offset previous declines.”

Last month, Statistics Canada tracked one of the few significant job creation months for young workers (15-24) since the recession, with over 54,000 new jobs added. That still left the unemployment rate for the age group at 13.6 per cent, however, still more than twice higher than for any other age group.

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