Oxfam released a report in time for International Women’s Day that shows Canadian women still only earn 72% of what their male counterparts do. Beyond that, Canadian women with university degrees earn up to 30% less than their male peers.
And it doesn’t stop there. When race comes into the equation, female minorities earn 68% of what their white, male counterparts earn. Aboriginal women earn 10% less than Aboriginal men and 26% less than non-Aboriginal men.
For full-time work, the outlook seems bleak. In the last seven years, the wage gap has actually increased from women earning an average of 74.4% of what men earn to the current number of 72%, according to Oxfam. The organization says it could be partly due to the growth in men’s incomes, which rose after Canada recovered from the 2008 financial crisis.
So what does that mean? It means that women don’t share in the benefits of economic growth in the same way men do. In fact, a higher percentage of women live below the low income measure than men – 14% versus 12.7%. One in three single moms live in poverty.
Societal expectations of the “roles” of women have contributed to long work weeks for many women. On average, Canadian women perform twice as many hours of unpaid work – think chores and childcare – than their male counterparts do on top of going to work. Over the past two decades, the amount of household work women do hasn’t decreased much, yet their hours of paid work have increased significantly.
Oxfam says this has resulted in women working “double days” and having less job security than men. Beyond that, women are way overrepresented in low-wage jobs – they make up 59% of minimum wage workers in Canada.
So what can be done? Getting rid of tax policies than suppress women, for one thing. According to Oxfam, the income splitting tax program introduced in Canada in 2015 actually discourages women from staying in the labour market. When it comes to couples, the higher earning spouse can transfer up to $50,000 of wealth to the lower earning spouse, so the main breadwinner is then taxed less. The tax break is maximized in single-earner households, so it essentially incentivizes women to just not work at all.
Shifting the balance of paid versus unpaid work could start with parental leave policies. While parental leave is available to both men and women, 93% of that leave is taken by women, and extending it beyond 12 months could hurt a woman’s ability to re-enter the job market.
Quebec has a pretty forward-thinking approach to paternity leave. The province – much like many European countries – introduced a supplemental period of parental leave for fathers only. Up to 75% of the father’s income is replaced and it’s resulted in a dramatic increase in dads staying at home. In fact, up to 76% of men in Quebec take parental leave, compared to 26% of men in the rest of Canada.
Another key factor in keeping women in the workforce is implementing affordable childcare. A lack of affordable childcare is keeping women at home for longer periods after they want and need to return to work. A working parent can spend up to a third of their income on childcare for children under the age of six.