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The wage gap that won't go away

The wage gap has narrowed significantly in the last three decades, but systemic issues perpetuate its existence

The Wage Gap That Won’t Go Away

The women who descended on Washington, DC, last weekend did so to send a message about women’s rights that will provide a counterbalance to the misogynistic views supported by President Donald Trump. On an economic level, the danger of gender stereotyping prolongs cultural and social norms which harm women and men, while detracting from policy discussions which could improve the economic lives of everyone. According to a Statistics Canada report produced for the Globe and Mail, Canadian women who work full-time still earn 73.5 cents for every dollar men make.

A report from the United Nations human rights committee last July criticized Canada’s record on women. The report outlined the wide pay gap, uneven legislation when it comes to wages and the lack of systems in place to enforce or ensure employment equity in the country’s private sector.

“The gender wage gap is complex and results from a variety of factors,” says Chanel Grenaway, Director of Economic Development Programs at the Canadian Women’s Foundation.

“Factors that have existed for years are still issues today. Women are still expected to play multiple roles, and to pick up “the second shift” as the caregiver and the homemaker. This is work beyond the workplace, and it’s unpaid and undervalued. Women are also more likely to be moving in and out of the workforce as compared to men – maternity leave is one example. This is part of the “glass ceiling” issue. Men are often able to stay in the workforce continually, thus keeping an unbroken focus on advancing their careers.”

Although women today still earn relatively less than men on average, according to a 2013 Statistics Canada report, the gender hourly wage gap decreased significantly over the last three decades. Relative to men, women were actually more productive than men in the workplace. In fact, virtually all of the decline in the gender wage gap over the 1981 to 1998 period can be accounted for by this fact.

But in 2017, there are still some concerns.

According to Grenaway, we’re seeing the rise of the gig economy. “One-off jobs, contract work, that type of thing. This can mean more precarious and less stable employment, and there’s also the added pressure of job loss through automation. Women tend to end up on the receiving end of this type of precarious work, often because they have those second shift responsibilities and not enough support, like affordable childcare. So full-time work isn’t always an option.”

Women work in a narrower range of occupations than men and positions in the 20 lowest-paid occupations are mostly filled by women. About two-thirds of the female work force are concentrated in teaching, nursing, health care, office and administrative work, and sales and service industries.

Grenaway also stressed that these issues are intertwined. A woman who is not earning enough to take care of herself and her family is also more likely to stay in an abusive relationship. “There are very serious and far-reaching consequences to the wage gap and women’s poverty in Canada,” she said.

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