Globe and Mail

It's true: Women are gaining ground in every job category

Monday, March 4, 2002 – Print Edition, Page B8
The Globe and Mail

Men and women have followed sharply different tracks in Canada's labour market during the past decade or so, but over the whole span, one pattern stands out vividly: Women continue to gain ground faster than men.

By last year, they accounted for 46.2 per cent of all job holders, up from just under 44 per cent at the end of the 1980s. Their share increased rapidly during the early years of the 1990s, flattened out until about 1996 and since then has been rising slowly, but steadily.

The big increase between 1990 and 1992 is easily explained. Women escaped largely unscathed from the recession of those years, mainly because fewer women work in blue-collar jobs such as those in construction, manufacturing, trucking, mining and forestry. Those occupations, where six of every seven workers is a man, bore the brunt of the economy's setback.

Over that two-year period, about 325,000 jobs disappeared from the economy and men accounted for 95 per cent of the losses. Naturally, women's share of all jobs increased: By 1992, they accounted for 45.4 per cent of the work force, compared with 43.9 per cent in 1989.

When growth resumed after 1992, it took three years before men won back all the jobs they had lost during the recession, but of the 600,000 jobs added during that period, about 45 per cent went to women. In effect, their gains matched almost exactly their share of all jobs in 1992, so their 45.4-per-cent share of the total remained unchanged, a pattern that persisted into 1996.

In the five years since then -- a period that takes in four years of strong economic growth and the slowdown of 2001 -- women have continued to eke out an ever-growing share of all Canadian jobs, which by 2001 had climbed to 46.2 per cent.

Between 1996 and 2001, the economy created 1.6 million new jobs. Of those, men picked up 764,000 and the other 850,000 (52.7 per cent of the total) went to women, who made inroads in a wide range of occupations. Take a look at the record in three broad categories of occupations:

In sales and service jobs, women took 62 per cent of the 500,000 new jobs created, a gain that raised their share of the total to 58.1 per cent of the total last year from 57.5 per cent in 1996. These are not the best jobs in the world in terms of wages or stability, so women may not be inclined to celebrate this trend. The jobs include those of retail clerks, restaurant workers, real estate agents and child-care workers.

Even in the blue-collar world, women did well, as they picked up almost 20 per cent of the 287,000 new jobs in a traditionally male domain. It still is, but last year, women held 15.3 per cent of those jobs, up from 14.9 per cent in 1996.

White-collar jobs cover a mishmash of occupations in terms of job quality -- from the managers and professionals down to the clerks in company and government offices across the land, and from the doctors, nurses, professors and teachers down to the lower-paid jobs in big institutions in the health and education systems.

There too, women pulled off increases. Of the 826,000 new jobs in those occupations, 58.6 per cent went to women and their share increased to 56.5 per cent from 56.2 per cent.

They did not fare well, however, in the management suites. All told, there was almost no change in the number of managers, but men gained 31,000 such jobs, while women lost 27,000. Their share of the best such jobs fell to 34.8 per cent in 2001 from 36.9 per cent in 1996.

But that was offset by strong increases in other high-end, white-collar jobs.

In the past five years, they snagged two-thirds of the new professional jobs in business and finance -- lawyers and accountants, for example. Take note: Women have almost achieved parity with men in these jobs. Their share last year was 49.6 per cent, up from 46.8 per cent in 1996 and only 38.3 per cent in 1987, the earliest year for which there are figures.

In the traditional male enclave of science occupations, women also made strong gains. Their share of those jobs -- scientists of all kinds, engineers and architects -- climbed to 20.5 per cent in 2001 from 17.9 per cent in 1996. Of the 300,000 new jobs created in the past five years, women got more than 26 per cent.

They did particularly well in the health field, where all the new professional jobs -- such as doctors and nurses -- went to women. They gained 47,000 new jobs in the past five years, while men lost 3,000.

Their gains in teaching were almost as striking. Of the 62,000 new teachers and professors hired between 1996 and 2001, 89 per cent were women, lifting their share of those jobs to 63.2 per cent from 60.1.

The bottom line is that women made gains across the entire spectrum of the labour market, and there are no signs that the shift is nearing an end. The workplace is definitely changing.

Copyright © 2002 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc.