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Les femmes dans le monde du travail dans les Amériques

 | 
Gérard Gómez
, 
Donna Kesselman

Le long processus d’acquisition des droits des travailleuses

Post-Feminism, the Labour Market and Generational Exceptionalism in Canada1

Jacquetta (Jacquie) Newman

Résumé

This paper examines how labour market restructuring in Canada has positioned middle class educated young women as significant actors and beneficiaries in the new economy. The first section discusses the changing policy context that while reducing discrimination and enabling women to more fully compete in the labour market, has tended to benefit certain classes of women more than others. Section two looks at the growth and stability of women’s labour market participation in the recessionary and boom periods of the past 30 years. Section three illustrates the difference in access based on age and educational attainment. The final section discusses how the success of certain groups of women in the current labour market appears to be associated with a particular relationship to feminism that can be characterized as “post-feminist”.

Cet article examine la manière dont la restructuration du marché du travail au Canada a positionné les jeunes femmes de la classe moyenne instruite comme protagonistes et bénéficiaires dans la nouvelle économie. La première section cherche à situer le contexte politique en évolution qui, tout en réduisant la discrimination et en permettant aux femmes de participer plus pleinement au marché du travail, tend à profiter davantage certaines classes de femmes que autres. La deuxième section examine la croissance et la stabilité de la participation des femmes au marché du travail dans les périodes de récession et boom des trente dernières années. La troisième section montre la différence d’accès selon l’âge et le niveau de scolarité. La dernière section décrit comment le succès de certains groupes de femmes sur le marché du travail courant semble être associé à une relation particulière du féminisme qu’on peut qualifier comme « post-féministe ».

Este ensayo examina cómo la reestructuración del mercado laboral en Canadá ha posicionado mujeres educadas de la clase media como actrices de la economía, y cómo están beneficiando significativamente el desarrollo económico. La primera parte discute el contexto político cambiante en el que se puede ver cómo ha reducido la discriminación ayudando a las mujeres a ser más competitivas en el mercado laboral. Pero, algunas mujeres han adquirido mejores beneficios que otras. La segunda parte observa el crecimiento y la estabilidad de la participación de las mujeres en el mercado laboral, en los tiempos de recesión y prosperidad económica de los últimos 30 anos. La tercera parte discute el acceso, usando los factores de la diferencia en edad y las oportunidades para obtener educación. La parte final discute los éxitos de algunos grupos de mujeres en el mercado laboral cotidiano que parece estar asociado con una relación particular al feminismo, que puede denominarse como “posfeminismo”.

Texte intégral

  • 1 An earlier version of this article was presented at the Politique publique du Travail section of th (...)

1One of the features of the post-feminism of generation-Y is the belief that economic independence and success is assured. As Aapola, Gonick and Harris (2005: 64) argue, “young women are often perceived to be the beneficiaries of the restructured labour market … unlike even a generation ago, many of them are imagining and organizing their lives around the idea of a career and in this way are entering into the new economy with enthusiasm and a sense of entitlement to participation.” Over the latter half of the 20th century, women’s participation in paid employment not only grew significantly, but for some women, especially those who are younger and educated, there has been much greater access to higher skilled and better paid occupations. As a result, while patterns of inequality between women and men have changed, we also see a polarization between the young, educated and employed women who have predominantly benefited from the changes and older, less educated women who have not. It is in this context in Canada that we can identify the emergence of the young “post-feminist” woman.

2This paper examines how labour market restructuring in Canada has positioned middle-class educated young women as significant actors and beneficiaries in the new economy. The first section discusses the changing policy context, which, while reducing discrimination and enabling women to more fully compete in the labour market, has tended to benefit certain classes of women more than others. Section two looks at the growth and stability of women’s labour market participation in the recessionary and boom periods of the past 30 years. Section three illustrates the difference in access based on age and educational attainment. The final section discusses how the success of certain groups of women in the current labour market appears to be associated with “post-feminist” attitudes.

Movement, policy and access to the labour market

3While the practical reality was that lower-class and farm women worked hard in 19th and early 20th century Canada, it was the second wave of feminism that made “claims to public autonomy and empowerment [that] were often linked to overcoming the traditional notion that married women should not be in the paid workforce” (Eisenstein 2005: 496). Women’s autonomy and access to the public sphere was viewed to be based on economic independence. Therefore demands were made for workplace equality, access to careers and occupations, equal pay for equal work, equality in career advancement, and an end to workplace sexual harassment. This fit with the changing nature of Canadian society after the Second World War as growing numbers of women were employed outside the home or enrolled in post-secondary education.

  • 2 Organized in 1967 as a result of pressure from movement organizations such as the CEW (Committee fo (...)
  • 3 As has been argued elsewhere (see, Begin 1997: 14; Burt 2000) the RCSW did not result in any state (...)

4At the end of the 1960s the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada (RCSW) comprehensively addressed the position of women in the economy.2 Of the four principles adopted by the Commission, employment came first (women should be free to choose whether or not to take employment outside their homes), and of the more than 167 recommendations of the RCSW, it was ensuring employment-based equity rights, such as equal opportunities in public sector hiring, women’s participation in government training programs, and addressing sex discrimination in regulated workplaces, that would be most fully adopted by the federal and provincial governments.3 The RCSW established an agenda for equal inclusion of Canadian women within the labour market and Canadian society more generally. Further to this, the ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and other international conventions and agreements to eradicate gender inequality, along with the adoption of federal and provincial human rights acts and human rights commissions, created a framework for pushing remedial action in labour equality. In 1982, the inclusion of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Canadian Constitution, with its specific guarantees of gender equality opened avenues for women’s groups to pursue equality claims in the labour force.

  • 4 It must be noted that implementation of national job equity and equality policy is far from clear c (...)

5Consequently, Canadian employment equity policy has tended to be pursued through legislation and policy based on a discourse of liberal individual rights. In 1977 the Federal Human Rights Act adopted the language of equal pay; Section 11 (1) explicitly states that it is “discriminatory practice for an employer to maintain a difference in wages between male and female employees employed in the same establishment who are performing work of equal value.” One year later the Canadian Human Rights Commission issued guidelines for the factors to be taken into consideration for establishing value. Section 15 of the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms affirmed equality before and under the law and the right to equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability (Section 15.1). However, Section 15.2 went beyond simple equality to allow the pursuit of equity principles by enabling “positive discrimination” in law, that is, programs and policies intended to ameliorate conditions of disadvantage related to these factors. The language of human rights opened up the way not only to end discrimination in wage rates, but also to push for access to professions and occupations previously blocked to women and minorities. This principle of employment equity (the Canadian term for affirmative action) was confirmed by the 1983 Royal Commission on Equality in Employment, some of which’s recommendations were adopted for federal civil service workers in the 1986 Employment Equity Act.4

6There is a significant problem with framing anti-discriminatory labour practices and pay and employment equity in terms of equality rights. As England & Gad (2002: 287)

After many years of pay equity and employment legislation, it seems that only limited success has been achieved in work place equity. In fact it is entirely possible that the direct and specific impacts of the legislation are limited. Certainly some women have greatly benefited, especially those in some parts of the public sector and in some parts of the private sector (where banking, for example, is emerging as an innovator in workplace equity policy).

  • 5 This approach is certainly illustrated by PSECA (The Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act and t (...)

7Without legislative support the process of pursuing labour market equality becomes individualized: implementation is left up to the discretion of the employers, and complaints have to be pursued by the employee (with or without organizational or union support) through often-expensive legal mechanisms. This is compounded by the changing nature of the economic climate and the nature of a narrative of rights centred on “individual equality” associated with a neo-liberal political agenda favouring free-market solutions. In investigating why federal and provincial governments have not established effective employment equity programs despite Canada’s cultural narrative claims to diversity, multiculturalism and equality of opportunity as primary values, Agocs and Osborne observed that individualized and voluntary “diversity management” approaches fit much more appropriately with the current business climate than do mandatory programs aimed at systemic discrimination (Agocs & Osborne 2009: 250, quoting Abu-Laban & Gabriel 2002). A rationale extolling the requirements of the fiscal and business climate has been used by both provincial and federal governments for failing to meet pay equity commitments and bring in inclusive and rigorous employment equity provisions. Public policy practice has been to assign responsibility for employment equity implementation, as with pay equity, to employers or, in cases where unions are active, to leave the issue to be negotiated between employer and union. The result has been a clear limitation of the number of workers who come under employment equity programs and the emergence of a regime in which compliance is left to voluntary acceptance by the employer and voluntary pursuit of complaints by employees and union members (Newman & White 2012: 226).5 Ultimately, employment equity and anti-discriminatory labour practices are only really available to individuals who have the resources to litigate.

8This is compounded by the retreat of the Canadian state from supporting those seeking gender equality. The Royal Commission of the Status of Women (1970) did much to enhance the institutional support for women’s equality. In the 1970s, as a result of the Commission’s recommendations, a number of women’s agencies were created in the federal bureaucracy. The most powerful was Status of Women Canada established in 1971 to assist the minister responsible for status of women in ensuring that federal state policy reflected women’s concerns and supporting the efforts of the Canadian women’s movement. However, by the mid-1980s and 1990s the changing economic climate and the turn to neoliberal retrenchment by both Conservative and Liberal governments downgraded state pursuit of gender equality. In 1990, a major structural reorganization of federal departments, undertaken ironically by Canada’s first female Prime Minister Kim Campbell (Conservative), broke up the secretary of state programs for women and people with disabilities bringing them under the larger department of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Further budget cuts shrank the reach and capacity of women’s programming at the federal level, culminating in 2007, with the closing of 12 of 16 regional offices run by Status of Women Canada, the cancelling of the Policy Research Fund which funded independent policy research, and changing the terms and conditions of the women’s program. A comparison of the Women’s Program from May 2006 (waybackmachine, 2008) and March 2007 (Department of status of Women 2007) revealed that occurrences of the word “equality” fell from 27 in May 2006 to one in March 2007. The rationale given by the government was that for most women in Canada equality had been achieved; a view summarized by Conservative government MP and member of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, Joy Smith, when she stated, “I believe very strongly that all women are equal under the constitution” (Status of Women Canada 2007). The result has been a significant, if not a full, state retreat from gender opportunity affairs and a shift to the expression of and pursuit of individual rights through the Courts.

9In the next section, this paper looks at the increase in women’s access to the labour market and evaluates its increase and stability over time, particularly in specific sectors that appear to have remained stable, if not flourishing, even in times of recession.

Labour Market Access

  • 6 It is interesting to note that increased women’s labour force participation has been accompanied by (...)

10In Canada two features stand out in the second half of the twentieth century, the mobilization and decline of Second Wave feminism and the massive growth in the proportion of women in formal wage employment. At the beginning of the 20th century the labour force participation rate of Canadian women was 18%. The rate increased slowly until the end of the Second World War, when it took off, more than doubling in the next 30 years. In the 1970s and 1980s, each successive cohort of women featured greater participation in the labour force. This, coupled with the size of the baby boom cohorts, pushed up cross-sectional participation rates dramatically. In 1986 the difference in labour force participation between men and women aged 25 to 54 was 24 points, in 2005 it stood at only 10 (Marshall 2006), and by 2009 it was reduced to 7 points. At the end of 2009, 58.3% of Canadian women over the age of 15 were in the labour force, accounting for nearly half (47.9%) of all Canadian employees (Table 1).6 The Conference Board of Canada (2014, 14) estimated that 62% of women in Canada were in the work force as of 2010.

Table 1: Employment trends of women and men aged 15 and over, 1976 to 2009.

Year

Women aged 15+

Men aged 15+

Women as a percentage of total employment

thousands

%

thousands

%

%

1976

3,618.2

41.9

6,129.3

72.7

37.1

1986

5,138.2

50.3

6,870.3

69.6

42.8

1996

6,099.0

52.1

7,322.4

65.0

45.4

2006

7,757.2

58.3

8,727.1

67.7

47.1

2008

8,104.5

59.3

9,021.3

68.1

47.3

2009

8,076.2

58.3

8,772.7

65.2

47.9

Source: Statistics Canada. 2012. Labour Force Survey. Employment trends of women and men aged 15 and over, 1976 to 2009. 89-503-X. Available at http://www.statcan.gc.ca/​pub/​89-503-x/​2010001/​article/​11387/​tbl/​tbl001-eng.htm.

11Canadian women now hold one of the highest labour force participation rates in the world (Marshall, 2006: 7). In addition, when compared with Europeans, Canadian women were more likely to be in full-time employment even when they had small children, particularly those women who had attended higher education institutions (see Table 2 and England & Gad, 2002, 283). It would appear that in Canada, as Walby (1997: 57) found in the U.K., “the traditional impact of life cycle events on women’s employment rates has ceased. … There is no longer a dip in economic rates in the early years of women’s working lives associated with early child care.”

Table 2: Employment rate of women with children under 6 by family status, 1976 to 2009.

Year

Lone Parent

With Partner

Child < 3

3-5 years

Child < 3

3-5 years

percentage

1976

27.6

45.1

27.6

36.0

1986

29.8

47.2

51.1

55.6

1996

32.9

46.2

61.0

63.3

2006

46.3

66.2

66.5

70.1

2008

49.1

65.6

66.3

71.2

2009

45.9

66.0

66.5

70.5

Source: Statistics Canada. 2012. Labour Force Survey. Employment rate of women with children by family status and age of youngest child, 1976 to 2009. 89-503-X. Available at http://www.statcan.gc.ca/​pub/​89-503-x/​2010001/​article/​11387/​tbl/​tbl006-eng.htm

12Even during the period of labour market contraction that occurred in the 1990s the growth of women in the labour force went on. As Sunter (2001: 3) found, “women continued to make gains although at a slower pace; both participation and employment rates continued to rise for adult (25 and over) women, and their unemployment rate fell to the same level as that of men.” Chaykowski and Powell (1999: S1) agree, arguing that while the 1970s represented a “take off” period for women’s labour market presence, the next two decades were one of consolidation of earnings and employment.

13Much of this stability was to be expected given the tendency of women to be concentrated in the service sector. While women did make gains in joining traditional male occupations, particularly medical and managerial occupations, in the last decades of the 20th century they still made up the majority of clerical/administrative and sales/service employees. In 2006, 67% of employed women were working in teaching, nursing, or a related health occupation, in clerical or administrative jobs, or in sales or service positions (Statistics Canada 2006: 376). Further to this, much of the women’s labour force was employed in part-time or temporary, precarious employment.

14However, the stability of women’s labour force participation also reflected the fact that the changing economy and restructuring of the labour market was having a significant impact on the fortunes of women in employment relative to men. As Chaykowski and Powell, (1999: S1) point out, this was a period of “extensive industrial restructuring in which workers were dislocated on a massive scale and new industries and skills were in the ascendency while traditional ones declined in importance.” In this context, women “emerged in a stronger labour market position, vis-à-vis men, than ever before.” In the U.S., Eisenstein (2005: 491) attributes this to a decisive shift in investment flows from goods production to finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE). Women were the beneficiaries of this expansion of the service sector and its use of women’s labour. Meanwhile the distribution of women and men across financial and administrative occupations has tended to even out. Particularly noteworthy is the increase in the proportion of senior managers who are women, from 21.0% in 1987 to 31.6% in 2009 (Table 3).

Table 3: Distribution of employment by occupation, 1987, 1999 and 2009.

Occupation

1987

1999

2009

women

men

Women as % of total occupat-ion

women

men

Women as % of total occupat-ion

women

Men

Women as % of total occupat-ion

percentage

Managerial

senior

0.3

0.8

21.0

0.4

0.8

28.2

0.3

0.6

31.6

Other

5.7

9.7

30.7

6.9

10.6

35.5

6.7

10.4

37.4

total

6.0

10.5

30.1

7.2

11.3

35.1

7.0

11.0

37.0

Professional

Business and finance

1.9

2.3

38.3

3.1

2.7

49.3

3.6

3.2

51.2

Natural sciences

2.3

7.0

19.5

3.0

9.6

20.7

3.3

10.6

22.3

Social sciences

4.3

2.0

61.4

5.8

2.4

67.7

7.7

2.7

72.5

Teaching

3.9

2.6

52.3

5.2

2.7

61.9

5.8

2.7

65.9

Doctors/dentist/

health

0.9

0.9

43.1

1.1

1.0

47.3

1.5

1.1

55.2

Nursing/therapy

/other health

8.3

0.9

87.1

8.1

1.1

86.3

9.1

1.2

87.1

Arts

2.7

2.1

48.4

3.4

2.4

54.1

3.7

2.9

54.4

Total

professional

24.1

18.0

50.4

29.7

21.9

53.4

34.7

24.4

56.7

Clerical/admin

29.7

7.9

73.9

24.6

6.8

75.4

23.2

6.9

75.5

Sales/Service

30.0

18.4

55.2

29.4

18.6

57.3

28.9

20.1

56.9

Primary

2.3

7.2

19.7

1.9

5.9

21.6

1.3

4.9

19.5

Trades,

transport,

construction

2.1

28.9

5.2

2.0

26.1

6.0

2.0

26.3

6.4

Processing,

manufacturing

5.8

9.1

32.4

5.2

9.3

32.2

2.9

6.3

30.1

Total occupations*

100.0

100.0

43.0

100.0

100.0

45.9

100.0

100.0

47.9

*includes occupations that are not classified.

Source: Statistics Canada. 2012. Labour Force Survey. 89-503-X. Available at http://www.statcan.gc.ca/​pub/​89-503-x/​2010001/​article/​11387/​tbl/​tbl012-eng.htm.

15The most recent reports from the Canadian federal government on employment equity bear this out. The banking industry has experienced the largest growth among federally regulated employers (compared to communications, transportation and other sectors). In 2010, employment in the banking sector grew by 4.1% over the previous year. The number of hires increased by 47.1%, while promotions increased by 37.8%. The sector also experienced an increase in terminations by 13.6%, but overall more people joined the banking sector. Despite a small decline in their proportion in 2010, women remained particularly well represented in this sector.

The number of women in this sector increased by 2.3% from 2009 to 2010, but their representation dropped from 66.6% to 65.4%. Similarly, 41.9% more women were hired, while their share of hiring decreased from 56.9% to 54.9%. Banking was the only sector where both the workforce representation and hiring of women continued to exceed LMA [Labour Market Availability]. (Human Resource and Skills Development Canada 2011).

16Therefore, we can argue that industrial restructuring has had a significant influence on the success of women in the labour market. As Sunter (2001) argues, “supply shifts may be part of the answer.” Economic restructuring changed the focus of demand for labour from male-dominated manufacturing industry work to the types of administrative professional work undertaken by women. As England & Gad (2002: 288) point out:

By 2001 a smaller proportion of women were manual workers, and there was a slight drop in the proportion in semi-professional and technical occupations. On the other hand there are more women in professional and managerial positions; these occupational groups accounted for 14.4% of women in 1987 and 22.4% in 2001. The increase in the senior managers’ level is particularly noticeable, suggesting women have gained greater access to corporate policy and strategic planning decision-making roles.

17For Sunter (2001) and Walby (1997), this success is attributable to continued advancement in women’s educational attainment. Esping-Anderson (2005: 169) agrees, arguing that the shift in women’s roles coincided with the rise of the knowledge economy, a “revolution spearheaded by women from the privileged social classes, the highly educated”. The most recent report from the Conference Board of Canada (2014:18) concurs with this assessment, arguing that the marked increase in women’s labour participation and the associated notable increases in women’s income and decrease in the gender wage-gap are a result of more young women entering and staying in the workforce and are “correlated with an increase in female education, suggesting as women become better educated, they are more likely to enter the workforce”.

Age and Position of Women in the Labour Market

18In Canada, age is another major differentiator of employment patterns, particularly for women. Chaykowski and Powell (1999), examining changes in labour force participation, found that between 1978 and 1988 participation was “fairly stable” for men aged 15-24, 25-44, and 45-54 years, but declined for those 55-64 (possibly a feature of early retirement options). The employment statistics in table 4 show an across the board drop in male employment in 1996 and then small increases and fluctuation over the next 12 years.

Table 4: Percentage of women and men employed by age, 1979 to 2014.

Year

women

men

women

men

women

men

women

men

15-24

25-44

45-54

55-64

percentage

1976

51.4

59.9

50.0

90.9

45.6

88.9

30.3

72.9

1986

58.1

60.6

66.4

86.3

55.9

85.7

30.3

62.3

1996

52.0

53.3

70.9

83.0

66.3

82.4

33.5

53.7

2006

59.5

57.9

77.2

86.8

76.8

85.1

48.7

62.8

2008

60.3

58.9

78.0

87.2

78.2

85.3

51.9

63.3

2009

57.1

53.6

77.1

83.8

77.3

82.9

53.1

62.3

2010

56.7

53.1

77.1

83.9

77.1

83.2

52.6

62.2

2011

56.5

54.2

77.2

84.8

78.0

84.1

52.9

62.5

2012

56.6

53.1

77.7

85.1

77.9

83.7

54.1

63.2

2013

56.0

54.1

78.1

85.1

78.2

84.2

55.2

63.9

2014

56.9

54.2

77.4

85.1

77.5

84.8

55.2

64.2

Source: Statistics Canada. 2012. Labour Force Survey. Percentage of women and men employed by age 1976 to 2009. 89-503-X. Available at http://www.statcan.gc.ca/​pub/​89-503-x/​2010001/​article/​11387/​tbl/​tbl004-eng.htm and Statistics Canada. 2015. Table 282-002 Labour force survey estimates (LFS), by sex and detailed age group, annual 28-01-2015. Available at www.stat.can.gc.ca/tables-tableauz/sum-som/l01/cst01/labour05-eng.htm. Accessed 25 Feb., 2015. As the age categories 45-54 and 54-64 are not given in the 2015 survey, the rate for 45-54 is an average of the current categories of 45-49 and 50-54 years and 55-64 and average of 55-69 and 60-64 years.

19The patterns of women’s employment were quite different. Men appear to have been much more significantly hit by the recessionary pressures and fluctuations in employment than were women. The labour force participation of women increased substantially between 1978 and 1998. However, that increase was not seen in all age groups.

[T]he overall increase in female participation rate was driven by an approximate 19 percentage point and 23 percentage point increase in LFP rate of women aged 25 to 44 and 45 to 54 years respectively. In contrast to males, the LFP rate of women aged 15 to 24 and 54 to 64 years remained roughly constant (Chaykowski & Powell 1999: S2).

20This is supported by the Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey employment percentages for 1976, 1986, and 1996. After the 1980s it is uncommon to find a women under age 50 not in the labour force. Sunter (2001: 4) also reports similar findings.

Not all demographic groups contributed equally to the decline in the labour force between 1989 and 1997. When the population is divided into 5- or 10-year age groups by sex, differences emerge. For men, all age groups except 65-to-79 year-olds experienced a decline. For women, declines were notable only among teenagers and 20-to-24 year olds. … With the population structure held constant at 1989 shares, the contribution of each group can be calculated. Two-thirds of the overall decline came from the youth group (36.5% from men and 31.1% from women). Older men (55 and over) accounted for a further 21.3% and older women, 3.2%. Among 24-to-54 year-olds, however, the story was dramatically different by sex. Core-age men accounted for 28.2% of the overall decline, while core-age women actually experience modest growth in their labour force participation.

  • 7 All of these numbers are for workers 25 and older. Youth unemployment for this period was 15.9% and (...)

21The resilience of young women in the workforce remained even during the global economic meltdown of 2008. Rates of unemployment recorded in November 2009 found men to be the hardest hit, with the male unemployment rate at 8.1%, compared to 6.2% unemployment among women workers (Statistics Canada 2009).7 That the recessionary period of 2008-2009 involved financial industries may explain the slight drop in women’s employment between 2008 and 2009 seen in table 4.

22Overall, men’s workforce participation has been stagnant. As the Canadian Conference Board (2014: 21) reports, “by 2010, no male cohort below age 65 had experienced a net increase in labour force participation since 1984” (my emphasis). In the period 1976 to 2009 (Table 4), women’s employment grew by 27.1 and 31.7 percent in the core cohorts of 25 to 44 and 45 to 54 year olds respectively. For women in the 54 to 64 year old cohort the increase during these 33 years was 22.8 percentage points, probably reflecting both the group of women who entered the workforce in the 1960s and the larger group of women who joined the workforce during the 1970s. Through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s employment growth was characterized by women between the ages of 25 to 44 years. It was not until the mid-first decade of the 21st century that the numbers of 44 to 54 year old female employees started to look like those of their younger colleagues, as women who had entered and stayed in the workforce grew older.

23The statistics after 2010 illustrate a degree of uncertainty and fluctuation in all labour participation rates most likely reflecting a slow economic recovery and the vagaries of a primary-resource based economy. However, they also point to resiliency in the labour market on the part of young women. While young women between 25 and 44 years have yet to achieve the employment rates of 2008, in 2014 the rate was only 0.6 below that recorded in 2008. For men in the same cohort the difference was a 2.1 decline from 2008. Employment numbers for young women appeared to be recovering better than that for young men. Among the cohort entering or who had just entered the labour market during the period of the economic meltdown (2008-2010), young women fared better than their male colleagues (Table 5). Women aged 20 to 24 experienced only a 0.7% drop in participation between 2008 and 2010 and a 0.4 increase between 2010 and 2014. This is compared to twice that for men (1.7%) a decrease that continued from 2010 to 2014. Women aged 24-29 experienced an increase over this period compared to a 0.6% decline for men the same age.

Table 5. Labour force participation Rates 2000 to 2014 for 20 to 30 year olds by sex.

Women

Men

20-24

25-29

20-24

25-29

2000

74

79.9

80.2

90.6

2001

74.4

80.5

79.7

90.9

2002

75.2

80.7

81.2

90.9

2003

77.2

81.3

81.6

91.1

2004

76.3

81.6

81.4

90.4

2005

76.2

81.0

79.9

90.4

2006

77.1

81.7

79.9

90.1

2007

76.2

81.8

80.6

90.3

2008

76.2

81.5

81.0

90.5

2009

75.8

81.8

79.2

89.8

2010

75.1

82.5

78.6

89.7

2011

75.1

81.0

79.1

89.0

2012

75.1

81.8

79.2

89.8

2013

74.8

81.5

77.9

88.1

2014

75.5

81.1

77.7

88.0

Source: The Conference Board of Canada, ‘Trends in Income Inequality Between Generations,’ September 2014 and Statistics Canada. 2015. Table 288-002 Labour force survey estimates (LFS), by sex and detailed age group, annual 28-01-2015. Available at www.stat.can.gc.ca/tables-tableauz/sum-som/l01/cst01/labour05-eng.htm. Accessed 25 Feb., 2015.

Education and the Position of Young Women in the Canadian Labour Market

24While some of this can be attributed to the rise in the dominance of service and precarious work and the decline in full-time, full-year industrial manufacturing work, the differences based on age and gender are attributable to educational status.

Increases in the educational attainment among women and their education-related participation rate patterns have been major factors contributing to increases in female LFP. Indeed, since individuals with higher levels of education generally participate to a greater extent in the labour market, reflecting higher potential return to work, this effect is not surprising (Chaykowski & Powell, 1999: S8).

25As discussed earlier, both Eisenstein and Esping-Anderson point to the changing nature of the economy, the rise of the finance, insurance and real estate industries, and more generally the rise of the knowledge economy, which requires particular skill sets developed in higher education. As Esping-Anderson (2009: 70) argues, there are rising returns for those with skills and earning erosion for those who are low skilled.

Formal education credentials surely remain crucial. We can, as a rule of thumb, pretty much predict that someone with no more than a lower secondary degree will fare poorly in tomorrow’s labour market. In virtually all advanced economies today, early school leavers suffer three times more unemployment than those with higher degrees, and they are highly over-represented among the long-term unemployed. Viewed in life-course terms the low educated are unlikely to accumulate much pension wealth, and are accordingly, at risk of old age poverty. (Esping-Anderson 2009: 114)

26Women are much more likely to be in paid employment if they have received higher education, a relationship that holds for all ages (Walby 1997: 41). As Table 6 illustrates for Canada, in 2009 across the age groups, women with post-secondary certification or university degrees were much more likely to be working than those without. Table 7 breaks this down for the years 2008 to 2012 with similar results.

Table 6: Percentage of women employed by highest level of educational attainment, 2009.

Level of Education

15 to 24 years

25 to 44 years

45+ years

15+ years

percentage

0-8 year

19.4

40.8

10.8

13.7

Some high school

40.5

52.0

26.4

35.0

High school

65.1

69.6

47.7

56.2

Some post-secondary

58.7

68.7

52.0

59.1

Post-secondary certificate/diploma

77.2

82.1

57.3

69.2

University

73.6

82.8

64.4

74.7

Total of all levels

57.1

77.1

46.3

58.3

Source: Statistics Canada. 2012. Labour Force Survey. Percentage of the population who are employed by highest level of educational attainment, 2009. 89-503-X. Available at: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/​pub/​89-503-x/​2010001/​article/​11387/​tbl/​tbl003-eng.htm.

Table 7: Female labour employment rate by educational attainment and age over time.

Level

Age

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

High school graduation

15-24

69.0

65.2

63.8

63.3

62.9

25-54

74.0

72.5

72.8

71.8

71.4

55-64

51.4

51.4

52.3

52.7

53.9

65+

6.9

6.5

8.0

7.2

8.0

Some post-secondary

15-24

63.2

59.0

59.0

60.1

59.6

25-54

75.0

71.2

71.5

71.4

71.9

55-64

56.1

57.1

55.6

54.8

57.5

65+

8.8

9.2

9.2

10.0

8.8

Post secondary certificate or diploma

15-24

78.1

77.3

77.2

76.5

75.3

25-54

82.9

82.1

81.0

81.8

82.0

55-64

56.8

59.0

59.7

59.0

59.7

65+

9.7

10.2

9.7

10.9

12.7

University degree

15-24

73.8

73.7

75.6

72.1

73.4

25-54

82.9

82.9

82.6

82.8

83.2

55-64

61.5

63.7

61.8

62.9

63.0

65+

14.9

14.8

15.5

15.6

15.6

Bachelor

15-24

73.9

73.6

76.0

73.1

73.7

25-54

82.5

82.4

82.0

82.7

82.7

55-64

58.9

60.7

58.9

60.0

59.7

65+

11.9

11.9

14.1

12.3

13.4

Above bachelor

15-24

73.4

74.4

72.1

63.3

70.7

25-54

83.9

84.3

84.0

83.1

84.4

55-64

66.8

70.0

67.8

68.7

69.9

65+

21.6

21.1

19.2

23.7

20.4

Employment rate (formerly the employment/population ratio) is the number of persons employed expressed as a percentage of the population 15 years and over. The employment rate for a particular age group is the number employed in that group expressed as a percentage of the population for that group.

Source: Statistics Canada. 2012. CANSIM Table 282-0003 – Labour force survey estimates (LFS), by educational attainment, sex and age group, unadjusted for seasonability. Available at: http://www5.statcan.gc.ca/​cansim/​a47. Accessed 13 May 2013.

27Younger women have gained access to education much more than older women. According to Sunter (2002), in 1996, 12% of women of working age had university degrees, compared to 14% of men. As Table 8 shows, in 1990, 28% of women aged 25 to 34 had post-secondary educations and 15% had university degrees. (For men in the same cohort the numbers were 29.3% and 15.6% respectively.) When older women were included (25 to 54 year olds), post-secondary graduates fell to 26.6% and university degrees to 13.7%. (For men of that age there was a similar 1.5 point drop in post-secondary accreditation numbers but a 1.5 point increase in university degree holders). Nineteen years later, in 2009, females 25 to 34 years old with post-secondary certification had risen to 36.7%, nearly equal with their male colleagues at 37%, and when older women were included (25 to 54 years) this increased to 37.2% (men were at 36.8%). Women between 25 and 35 years with university degrees outnumbered men (34.4% of women and only 26.6% of men). A decrease was again seen when older women were included, with the numbers being 28.1% for women 25 to 54 and 25.1% for men in the same category. In 2009, university degrees belonged significantly to young women (Turcotte 2011, the same data is used by Conference Board of Canada, 2014).

Table 8: Distribution of women and men, by age group and highest level of educational attainment, Canada 1990 and 2009.

Highest level of educational attainment

Age 25-34

Age 25 to 54

1990

2009

1990

2009

women

men

women

men

women

men

women

men

percentage

0 to 8 years

3.9

4.6

1.4

1.5

8.6

9.0

2.2

2.7

Some high school

15.5

17.9

5.2

8.0

17.5

18.0

6.6

9.2

High school diploma

27.3

23.0

15.0

19.3

25.4

20.0

19.4

19.7

Some post-secondary

9.9

9.7

7.4

8.2

8.2

8.1

6.3

6.5

Post-secondary certificate or diploma

28.3

29.3

36.7

37.0

26.6

27.8

37.2

36.8

University degree

15.0

15.6

34.4

26.0

13.7

17.1

28.1

25.1

Total population (thousands)

2,466

2,469

2,265

2,280

6,016

6,014

7,262

7,256

Source: Turcotte, 2011 from Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey, 1990 and 2009.

28This makes sense given that in Canada in the past twenty years young women have come to outnumber their male colleagues in university, particularly at the undergraduate level, and college programs. Women’s enrolment has similarly increased in Master’s programs: in 2010 they made up 56% of the students in such programs (AUCC 2011). Fewer women are found in Ph.D programs, but by 2000 women comprised 46% of Ph.D students, and this proportion has remained steady. As Table 9 illustrates, these figures are not immune to gendered segregation. However, with the notable exception of math and computing, the proportion of women graduates has increased in almost all fields tracked by Statistics Canada in the past twenty years.

Table 9: Percentage of women among university graduates by field of study, Canada, 1992 and 2008.

Field of Study

1992

2008

percentage

Total instructional programs

56.4

60.0

Architecture, engineering, related

17.5

22.2

Mathematics, computer and information

35.2

30.4

Personal, protective, and transportation

18.2

44.9

Business, management, public administration

51.4

53.0

Agriculture, natural resources, conservation

36.7

55.9

Physical, life sciences, technologies

45.6

57.3

Humanities

63.7

64.3

Visual, performing arts and communication technologies

65.9

66.5

Social, behavioural sciences and law

59.3

67.0

Other instructional programs

73.6

69.4

Education

72.6

76.1

Health, parks, recreation and fitness

68.0

77.0

Source: Turcotte, 2011.

29The question that remains is whether this increased access to and success in higher education is translated into employment access and success. Research regarding this question is particularly provisional. However, reports from the Council of Ontario Universities state that the success rate of Ontario university graduates in finding work that matches their university training is high. “Students who complete their undergraduate programs at Ontario Universities consistently experience high employment and earnings rates….They also find that the skills they gained in their programs match the skills they need at work” (Council of Ontario Universities 2012). Two years after graduation 100% of graduates with degrees in veterinary medicine, therapy and rehabilitation, theology, and forestry had found employment. Medical professions followed with employment rates in the high 90 percent range, along with computing science and architecture and landscape architecture. With the exception of the physical sciences (89.5%), 90% or more of the graduates from all other program areas had found employment two years after graduation; 82% of these were in employment closely or somewhat related to the graduate’s university education. With the exception of the mathematics and computing, architecture and engineering, and personal protective and transportation fields, women were the majority of graduates of university programs during this period (Table 9). Consequently, it is not a huge jump to conclude that young women made up a significant number of these successful graduates.

30Further to this, young women are well positioned to enter the labour market in areas where shortages of skilled workers have been identified. An assessment by the CIBC (Tal 2012: 2) found, “by far the largest skill shortage was found in health-related occupations, the mining industry, advanced manufacturing and business services. Put together, those occupations account for 21% of total employment in Canada. That is, one-fifth of the Canadian labour market is showing signs of skilled labour shortage” (my emphasis). Tables 10 and 11 compare the occupations identified by the CIBC as suffering the most acute labour shortages or surpluses to women’s representation in those occupations as recorded in the 2006 National Census and point to an interesting story. Of the 25 occupations considered to be suffering from a lack of skilled employees, 12 (mainly health professions) were fields where women made up more than 50% of the employees in 2006. This does not include auditors, accountants and investment professions, where women were 49% of the occupation in 2006, and optometrists, chiropractors and health diagnosing and treating professionals (43%). In these professional fields women made up more than 50% of the university graduates in 2008. The same can be said of the physician, dentist and veterinary category, where only 37% of employees were female in 2006, but in 2009 (Table 3) 55% were female. Of the skilled occupational categories facing labour shortages as listed by the CIBC, only three fields can be characterized as having less than 50% female graduates trained in these fields: civil, mechanical, electrical and chemical engineers, other engineers, and managers in construction and transportation.

Table 10: Occupations facing labour shortages and percent of women’s representation, 2006.

Occupation

Women’s representation percent

Managers in Engineering, Architecture, Science and Information systems

22

Managers in Health Education Social and Community Service

67

Managers in Construction and Transportation

11

Auditors, accountants and investment professionals

49

Human resources and business service professionals

55

Professional occupations in natural applied sciences

23

Physical science professionals

31

Life science professionals

37

Civil, mechanical, electrical, chemical engineers

11

Other engineers

14

Professional occupations in health

54

Physicians, dentists and veterinarians

37

Optometrists, chiropractors, and health diagnosing and treating professionals

43

Treating professionals

64

Pharmacists, dietitians and nutritionists

68

Therapy and assessment professionals

86

Nurse supervisors and registered nurses

93

Technical and related occupations in health

77

Medical technologists and technicians (excluding Dentistry)

81

Technical occupations in dental health care

77

Other technical occupations in health care

74

Psychologists, social workers, counselors, clergy and probation officers

63

Supervisors mining, oil and gas

3

Underground miners, oil and gas workers

3

Supervisors in manufacturing

17

Supervisors processing occupations

16

Source: Statistics Canada. 2006. 2006 Census: occupation – national occupational classification for statistics 2006 (720), class of Worker (6) and sex (3) for the labour force 15 years and over of Canada. Statistics Canada catalogue no. 97-559-XCB2006011. Available at http://www.12.statcan.gc.ca/​census-recensement/​2006. Accessed May 22, 2013.

Table 11: Occupations facing labour surplus and percent of women’s representation, 2006

Occupation

Women’s representation percentage

Managers in manufacturing and utilities

16

Clerical supervisors

56

Clerical occupation

71

Clerical occupation, general office skills

90

Office equipment operators

79

Finance and insurance clerks

84

Mail and message distribution occupations

43

Secondary and elementary teachers and counselors

74

Sales and services supervisors

57

Cashiers

85

Occupations in food and beverage services

78

Tour and recreational guide amusement occupation

44

Other attendants in travel, accommodation and recreation

33

Technical occupations in personal service

81

Other occupation in personal service

89

Butchers and bakers

44

Upholsterers, tailors, shoe repair, jewelers and related occupations

60

Fishing vessel masters, skippers, and fishermen/women

13

Machine operators and related

11

Machine operators and related worker in pulp and paper production and wood processing

14

Source: Statistics Canada. 2006. 2006 Census: occupation – national occupational classification for statistics 2006 (720), class of Worker (6) and sex (3) for the labour force 15 years and over of Canada. Statistics Canada catalogue no. 97-559-XCB2006011. Available at: http://www.12.statcan.gc.ca/​census-recensement/​2006. Accessed May 22, 2013.

31Of the 20 occupations listed as suffering a severe labour surplus (Table 12), 13 were dominated by women and part-time employment (e.g., cashiers, food and beverage services). However, most of the categories dominated by women, with the clear exception of secondary and elementary school teachers and counselors, were those that did not require a high-level skill set that would be developed through higher education. This speaks directly to Walby’s (1997) findings regarding the difference between younger and older women in the UK.

Age is significant in differentiating those women who have been able to take advantage of these new social relations in education. Younger women have benefited from the changes; older women have not. Since formal education is usually completed early in life the transformation of women’s educational opportunities has passed older women by. This creates two gendered patterns of inequality. First, there is a gap between younger and older women in qualification. This has implications for the employment opportunities, opening a gap in this as well as other arenas. Second, it means that there are different patterns of gender relations and gender inequality among younger and older people. Older women face much greater inequality in their dealings with their male peers than do younger women as a result of these different educational opportunities and achievements.

32It is age and education which result in the increasing polarization in the experiences of women; young women who have high levels of education are more likely to gain entry to good jobs.

Feminism and post-feminism in the 21st Century

33The purpose of this discussion was to evaluate claims that there is a generation of “young women often perceived as the beneficiaries of the restructured labour market… many of [whom] are imagining and organizing their lives around the idea of a career and in this way are entering into the new economy with enthusiasm and a sense of entitlement to participation” (Appola, Gonick & Harris 2005: 64). When we look at patterns in Canadian women’s labour market participation over the past 30 years, this would appear to be the case. Not only have participation rates and occupational distributions evened out between men and women, women appear to have been more resilient in the face of recessionary pressures and deindustrialization. As table 5 illustrates, young women certainly had an edge in entering and remaining in the labour market during the global meltdown of 2008-2009. As the majority of holders of postsecondary education credentials, young women are much more likely to attain higher skilled, higher earning employment positions in the expanding, knowledge-based medical and financial industries. There does not seem to be much to disabuse young women currently in, bound for, or recently graduated from university or college of the idea that they will have successful careers and economic security on their own terms as independent women. For Walby (1997: 37-38) this is characteristic of a change in the gender regime in the UK and industrial democracies more generally “brought about by the success of first-wave feminism in winning political citizenship and the increase in demand for labour with economic development … accelerated by: changes in state policy towards equal opportunities in employment and education; changes in trade union policies towards equal opportunities for women; changes in family practices; and the massive increase in women in education at all levels. ” According to Hester Eisenstein, a “dangerous” relationship has emerged between feminism and corporate capitalism through the restructuring of the US and world economy since the 1970s.

I am pointing to a complex interaction between a set of corporate and government strategies to maximize profitability, and a social movement that sought to maximize options for women. most centrally, their economic opportunities. As Lourdes Beneria noted, there was a “supply” factor in the changed consciousness of women, and a “demand” factor in preference for female labour in many sectors of the economy (2005 citing Baneria 2003: 77).

34Similarly, Esping-Anderson (2005 169) argues that an incomplete revolution for equality has left greater inequalities in its wake: “put bluntly, the quest for gender equality tends to produce social inequality as long as it is a middle class affair.” Economic and labour market changes combined with Second Wave feminism’s pursuit of women’s autonomy based on economic independence and enhanced labour power has benefited and worked to the advantage of a particular group of women – young women with high educational achievement and, associated with this, higher socio-economic status.

Conclusion

  • 8 Although many of the post-feminist beneficiaries of this would argue that it has succeeded, and the (...)
  • 9 For Esping-Anderson (2009: 1), “incomplete revolutions tend to be associated with major disequilibr (...)

35I am in no way making an argument that Second Wave feminism has either “failed” women or “succeeded” for most women and therefore is no longer needed.8 Following Walby, Eisenstein and Esping-Anderson9, my argument is that the changing patterns in Canadian women’s educational attainment and labour market participation, particularly as experienced by young women, point to the complication of gender, age and class inequalities in today’s society. These complications and the ensuing intersections of age with gender and class point us to the socio-political and economic characteristics of post-feminism. As Genz and Brabon (2010) argue, the post-feminism characteristic of today’s young women “is doubly coded in political terms and is part of a neo-liberal political economy that relies on the image of the “enterprising self’ characterized by initiative, ambition and personal responsibility.” Such a generation tends to speak a neo-liberal discourse of free-market anti-statism, individualism, self-reliance and the imperative to use appropriately the opportunities given to a person (Newman 2010; Roney, Newman & Cammen 2010). For these young women, the opening of the labour market by Second Wave feminists, the establishment of rights-based mechanisms to ensure access rather than state supported social equality provisions, the opening up of post-secondary education, and deindustrialization and the growth of the knowledge economy have opened up avenues to success. It is, as Aapola, Gonick & Harris (2005: 59 & 75) argue regarding the relationship between young middle class girls and the neo-liberal transition in Western industrial democracies:

accompanied by the expansion of narratives of individualization and choice, whereby knowable trajectories and traditional support structures have been replaced by an emphasis on the individual and her personal strategies for ‘making it.’ … good outcomes are the result of the enormous resources and economic and social capital at her disposal, as well as her capacity to take advantage of elite networks for employment and education opportunities beyond the immediate youth job market.

36As this paper illustrates, this context of employment and education opportunities certainly exists for young women in Canada. In Canada, the changing patterns of the labour market over the past 30 years, the retreat of the state in social policy, and the normalization of both neo-liberal and liberal feminist discourses have created the space in which post-feminism can emerge.

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Notes

1 An earlier version of this article was presented at the Politique publique du Travail section of the Monde du Travail Axes, Congrès Annuel de l'Institut des Amériques, Femmes Dans Les Amériques. Aix-Marseille Université, Aix-en-Provence, December 5, 2013. I would like to thank Donna Kesselman for her helpful comments and the two anonymous reviewers for their input and comments, particularly the gentle reminder that the state is always present and complicit. Travel and research support was supplied by King’s University College at Western University.

2 Organized in 1967 as a result of pressure from movement organizations such as the CEW (Committee for the Equality of Women) and FFQ (Fédération de femmes du Québec), high profile women in the media and politics, and the threat of substantial mass mobilization, the RCSW received 1,000 letters, 468 briefs, and testimony from 860 witnesses across Canada before presenting its report in 1971.

3 As has been argued elsewhere (see, Begin 1997: 14; Burt 2000) the RCSW did not result in any state attempts to radically transform society. The state was willing to address claims that women should have the same opportunities in politics and work, but resisted fundamental restructuring of gender relations in society as a whole.

4 It must be noted that implementation of national job equity and equality policy is far from clear cut because in Canada’s federal structure jurisdiction for labour and employment falls to the provinces. While in 1980 the Canadian Human Rights Commission adopted a strong position against systemic discrimination against women and minorities and the federal government instituted policies like that of the Employment Equity Act, the provisions are limited to federal employees, crown corporations and a limited number of private sector businesses of national importance (i.e., national transportation, telecommunications and banking). This is not to say that human rights agencies established at the provincial level did not advocate and push for ending gender employment discrimination. For example, Quebec established its own human rights legislation in 1975 including provisions for equal pay for equal work, and between 1975 and 1990 the federal government and eight of the ten provinces, including Manitoba (1985), Ontario (1987), Nova Scotia (1988), Prince Edward Island (1988), New Brunswick (1989), and two territories, Yukon and NWT, adopted pay equity legislation applicable to public sector employees. At the federal level and in Quebec, the Yukon and NWT this was included within human rights acts, while in British Columbia the reliance was on non-legislated initiatives (England & Gad 2002: 283).

5 This approach is certainly illustrated by PSECA (The Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act and the Reform of Pay Equity, 2009) which explicitly recognized that its duty to taxpayers outweighed that to its employees: “despite improvement in pay equity and an overall feminization of the federal public service, the possibility of future pay equity complaints remained a significant risk to the government’s effort to manage taxpayers’ funds prudently and predictably. … it recognizes that the federal public sector operates in a market-driven economy.” It also was clear that the main responsibility for employment equality lay with employers: “The PSECA does not expect or require the federal public sector to bear the burden of reforming the market. Employers, even public sector employers, should not be required to diverge widely from market norms when compensating their employees. … Eliminating the gender wage gap, either in the federal public sector or in Canadian society, would be a much broader social objective that would require remedial measures beyond the scope of any legislation on equal pay for work of equal value… To take into account market forces does not necessarily bring discrimination into the assessment of the value of work. Market forces are not inherently discriminatory.” PSECA also put responsibility for making legal claims on to the individual. Section 36 of PSECA prohibits unions and employers from encouraging or supporting employees in filing a complaint. The employers and the bargaining agent are jointly accountable for ensuring employees receive equitable compensation at the collective bargaining table when compensation is not set through legal proceedings (Treasury Board, 2009).

6 It is interesting to note that increased women’s labour force participation has been accompanied by increased union participation. The face of Canada’s unions seems increasingly female. In 2004, 32% of female employees belonged to a union, an increase that appears to offset the eight percent decline in male union membership over the last forty years. By the mid-2000s, there was close to gender parity in Canadian union membership (Statistics Canada 2006: 112).

7 All of these numbers are for workers 25 and older. Youth unemployment for this period was 15.9% and not broken down by gender.

8 Although many of the post-feminist beneficiaries of this would argue that it has succeeded, and the current Canadian federal government certainly sees this as the case.

9 For Esping-Anderson (2009: 1), “incomplete revolutions tend to be associated with major disequilibria”.

© Presses universitaires de Provence, 2016

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