National Post

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Tuesday, December 21, 1999

StatsCan study casts doubt on male-female wage gap
Differences ascribed to experience, family commitments
Luiza Chwialkowska
National Post

A significant portion of the "gender gap" between the wages of men and women is due to the fact that men tend to have more work experience and more responsibilities, a new study from Statistics Canada reports.

The study, titled "The Persistent Gap: New Evidence on the Canadian Gender Wage Gap," also shows that family commitments have a large impact on women's wages.

Women who had never been married earned wages nearly identical to their male counterparts in 1997 -- 96 cents for every dollar earned by men who had never been married. Married women earned 77% of what married men earned.

Overall, women earned on average 80 cents for every dollar earned by men in 1997. Female workers earned an average of $15.10 an hour, while male workers received $18.80 an hour.

After controlling for such factors as rank and years in the workforce, however, women's average hourly wage rate was about 84% to 89% of the men's average.

This is a significant difference from previously identified "wage gaps."

"The gap has been declining over time," said Marie Drolet, a research economist in the Business and Labour Markets division of StatsCan and author of the study. Increasing educational attainment and growing work experience are helping narrow the divide, she said.

Improved measurement is also playing a role.

In addition to failing to take into account such factors as work experience, previous Statistics Canada studies have over-estimated the gap between men and women's wages by measuring annual earnings of full-time workers rather than actual wage rates, said Ms. Drolet.

"Men who work full-time work on average four hours more per week than women who work full-time," she notes.

Using the annual-earnings based Survey of Consumer Finances, StatsCan had calculated large gaps ranging from 58.4% in 1967 to 72.5% in 1997. Ms. Drolet's study is based on actual wage rates.

Despite much recent public discussion of "pay inequity," the study marked the first time Statistics Canada explored two factors that prove to be significant in predicting wages: cumulative work experience and job responsibilities.

The study found that 18% of the male-female wage gap reflects the fact that, "Women generally have less work experience than their male counterparts, supervise other employees less often and are involved in administrative decisions less frequently."

In 1997, on average, male workers had 18 years of work experience compared with 14 years for women. Men also had more seniority, about 1.3 more years than women. Roughly one in every three men held a job with supervisory responsibilities, where wages tend to be higher, compared with one in four women. In addition, men were more likely than women to participate in administrative decisions such as budgeting, staffing and deciding work for others.

"Since wages generally increase with work experience and time spent on the job, the difference between men and women in the number of years employed full-year, full-time and in time spent with the current employer explains part of the wage gap," wrote Ms. Drolet.

Another 30% of the gap was related to characteristics including, "differences in job tenure and the fact that men are more likely to graduate from programs leading to high-paying jobs such as engineering."

However, the study shows that some kinds of education have a bigger pay-off for women. These include college level education in health science and technology, and university studies in educational, recreational services, humanities and social science fields.

"Women earn more than exactly comparable men in those fields," says Ms. Drolet.

Overall, women with a university education earned 85 cents for every $1 earned by their male counterparts, and women who had less than a high school diploma earned only 69 cents for every $1 earned by their male counterparts, the study showed.

Despite the refinements in this study, the other half of the overall wage gap, or 10 cents for every dollar, remains unexplained.

"Despite the long list of factors used in the study, much of the wage gap still remains a puzzle, leaving at least one-half of the discrepancy unaccounted for," Ms. Drolet noted.

"If there were no differences in the pay men and women receive for the same characteristics, females would still earn less than men but only slightly," she wrote.

Ms. Drolet suspects that not only the cumulative length of work experience, but the frequency and timing of career interruptions that are more common to mothers than fathers, would likely explain more of the wage gap.

The analysis was based on StatsCan's 1997 Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics. The sample included 28,741 paid workers, including 13,902 women, aged 18 to 64, who were not self-employed or enrolled as full-time students.


(Each link opens a new window)

  • Statistics Canada

    A summary of the new gender gap study.

  • The Persistent Gap: New Evidence on the Canadian Gender Wage Gap

    The full report. You'll need a PDF reader such as Adobe Acrobat to download it.

  • Copyright Southam Inc.