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The Facts about the Gender Pay Gap in Canada

It’s clear that we have a gender pay gap in Canada. Unfortunately, Canada isn’t unique; a gender pay gap exists to some extent in every country in the world.

The gender pay gap is a widely recognized indicator of women’s economic inequality, and it exists across industries and professional levels. A 2015 UN Human Rights report raised concerns about “the persisting inequalities between women and men” in Canada, including the “high level of the pay gap” and its disproportionate effect on low-income women, racialized women, and Indigenous women.1

Canada is ranked as having the 8th highest gender pay gap out of a list of 43 countries examined by the OECD, based on 2016 data. Note that Canada is ranked after the European Union, which is listed as a single country, but includes 28 countries. 2 To learn more about economic inequality in Canada, see The Facts about Women and Poverty.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Gender Pay Gap

  • Sure, other countries have a gender pay gap, but does it really still exist in Canada?

    The gender pay gap is typically measured in three different ways:

        • Compare the annual earnings, by gender, for both full-time and part-time workers. On this basis, women workers in Canada earned an average of 69 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2016.3 This measurement results in the largest pay gap because more women work part-time, and part-time workers typically earn less than full-time workers.
        • Compare the annual earnings of full-time workers. On this basis, women workers in Canada earned an average of 75 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2016. 4
        • Statistics Canada notes that the measure above doesn’t account for the fact that full-time working women tend to work fewer hours than men, often because of family responsibilities. Thus, comparing the hourly pay of full-time working women to those of men provides a more precise picture of the pay gap. On this basis, women earned an average of 87 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2015.5 In the 20 years between 1998 and 2018, the gender pay gap based on hourly pay decreased by $1.04 (or 5.5 percentage points).6

      No matter which calculation is used, the pay gap clearly exists for women in Canada.

    • Learn more about our approach and hear stories about our impact.
    • Is the gender pay gap the same for all women?

      No. Although statistical averages are good indicators of how women are being compensated in the workplace, Indigenous, racialized, and newcomer women, as well as women with a disability, all experience the pay gap in different ways, for a variety of reasons.7 According to data from the 2016 Census:

        • Indigenous women working full-time, full year earn an average of 35% less than non-Indigenous men, earning 65 cents to the dollar.8
        • Racialized women working full-time, full-year earn an average of 33% less than non-racialized men, earning 67 cents to the dollar.9
        • Newcomer women working full-time, full-year earn an average of 29% less than non-newcomer men, earning 71 cents to the dollar.10

      According to the 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability, women with a disability in Canada working full- and part-time earn approximately 54 cents to the dollar when compared to the earnings on non-disabled men, equaling a pay gap of around 46%.11

      Learn more about our approach and hear stories about our impact.

      • In Canada, it’s illegal to pay women less than men. How can a gender pay gap exist?

        One of the most dramatic social changes in the last century has been the increase of women in Canada’s paid work force. In 2015, 82% of women ages 25-54 participated in the workforce, a significant increase from 21.6% in 1950 and 65.2% in 1983.12 However, governments and employers have not adequately responded to this new reality, which puts women at an economic disadvantage.

        The gender pay gap is complex and is the result of a variety of factors:

            • First, traditional “women’s work” pays less than traditional “men’s work.” Jobs that conform to traditional gender roles tend to be undervalued because they parallel domestic work that women were expected to perform for free.13 Research also suggests that when women make up a large percentage of a specific industry, wages become devalued.14
                • For example, 97% of truck drivers in Canada are male and earn a median salary of $45,417 per year. In contrast, 97% of early childhood educators in Canada are female and earn a medial salary of $25,334 per year.15

                Second, most women workers are employed in lower-wage occupations and lower-paid industries. Women work in a narrower range of occupations than men and have high representation in the 20 lowest-paid occupations.16

              • In 2015, women workers in Canada were the most highly represented in three fields (as compared to men): healthcare and social assistance, educational services, and food and accommodation services. The proportion of women to men in these industries has actually increased since 1976.17
              • Women also make up the majority of Canada’s minimum-wage workers, and a third of working women make less than $15 per hour.18 Around 50% of the pay gap is attributed to the fact that women are more likely to be found in lower-paying jobs.19

              Another factor in the overall pay gap is that more women than men work part-time.20 In 2015, three quarters of those working part‑time were women. 21

                • Women work part-time for several reasons, including lack of affordable childcare and family leave policies, along with social pressure to carry the bulk of domestic responsibilities. About 44% of Canadian non-school aged children live in “childcare deserts”, which are areas where at least three children would be in potential competition for each licensed daycare space.22
                • These factors also make it more likely for women to have interruptions or absences from work, which are linked to fewer opportunities for promotions and salary increases.23 According to Statistics Canada, 21.7% of women who were away during the work week listed family responsibilities as the cause, compared with only 9.3% of men.24

              The two largest factors explaining the remaining gender pay gap in 2018 were the distribution of women and men across industries, and women’s overrepresentation in part-time work, according to Statistics Canada. Almost two-thirds of the gender pay gap in 2018 was unexplained. Possible factors in this segment of the gap include gender differences in characteristics such as work experience and work interruptions, as well as gender-related biases or wage discrimination, or differences in pay negotiation.25

              When considering the role of discrimination in the gender pay gap, it’s important to differentiate between wage discrimination and employment discrimination refer to different things. The Pay Equity Act requires employers to ensure men and women receive “equal pay for work of equal value.” The Employment Equity Act requires that employers remove barriers to the workplace for women, Indigenous people, members of racialized groups, and people with disabilities.

              In 2018, the federal government acknowledged the factors above as contributors to the pay gap and prioritized taking steps to close it in the 2018 Federal Budget. Under the theme of “Equality + Growth,” the government committed to proactive pay equity for federally regulated sectors. It was estimated that this would affect 1.2 million Canadians, marking a large step forward on the road to equal pay for federal employees.26

              Increased pay transparency has been identified as one of the key steps toward closing the gender pay gap. In April 2018, Ontario was the first province in Canada to pass pay transparency laws. The Pay Transparency Act would require that all public job postings include a salary rate or range, and forbid employers from asking about past compensation or disciplining employees who talk about compensation. Additionally, employers with 100 or more employees would be required to track and report pay data, including any gender pay gaps within the organization.27 But, late in 2018, the newly elected provincial government delayed the implementation of those measures, saying it would gather feedback on how companies would implement transparency reporting. 28

      • What is the long-term impact of the gender pay gap for women in Canada?

        According to an Ontario Government report, women with the same experience, socio-economic and demographic background earn approximately $7,200 less than their male counterparts per year.29

        Every year, the Ontario Equal Pay Coalition marks Equal Pay Day, the date when women in the workforce have earned the same that men made in the previous year. On average, women must work 15 and a half months to earn what a man does in 12 months. In 2018, Equal Pay Day was held on April 10.30

        Estimates vary, but a 2017 study from the World Economic Forum has stated that it will take around 217 years to close the economic gender gap worldwide if present trends continue.31

        A 2017 study from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in the United States found that if equal pay were achieved, it would cut working women’s poverty levels in half.32

        • Can’t women eliminate the gender pay gap by getting more education and taking on leadership positions?

          The gender pay gap has not closed, despite the fact that women have begun to outnumber men when it comes to pursuing university degrees. Approximately 56% of post-secondary students in Canada are women.33

          Women who graduate university with a bachelor’s degree earn an average of $69,063 annually, while men who graduate with a bachelor’s degree earn $97,761.34

          Women today are pursuing demanding careers and moving into management and leadership positions. However, only three out of the 100 highest-paid Canadian CEOs were women in 2016.35

          The under-representation of women in top-earning positions contributes to slower progress in efforts to close the gender pay gap.36

          In Ontario, the highest paid 10% of women still earn 37% less than the highest paid 10% of men.37

          At all levels of income (except for the very lowest) women earn less than men.38

          • How much of a difference does a few cents make?

            Women’s lower earning power means they are at a higher risk of falling into poverty if they have children and then become separated, divorced, or widowed. They are less able to save for their retirement and more likely to be poor in their senior years; in fact, women 65 or over are more likely than their male counterparts to live on a low income.39

            The risk of falling into poverty means that women are sometimes forced to stay in abusive relationships, despite the danger. When women work outside the home and do most of the domestic work, their long-term health suffers.

            According to Statistics Canada, women at every age are more likely than men to describe their days as “quite a bit” or “extremely” stressful.”40

            The gender pay gap is a symptom of broader gender-based discrimination and inequality — it is just one indicator that gender equality has not been achieved in Canada. By encouraging conversations about Canada’s pay gap, we can continue to address other important topics related to gender equality.

            • It can’t be true that while women face a “motherhood penalty”, men enjoy a “fatherhood bonus”?

              Unfortunately, it is. Research shows that women who have children generally pay a price when it comes to salary, while men may benefit from becoming fathers. Mothers with at least one child under age 18 earned 85 cents for every $1 earned by fathers, while women without children earned 90 cents for every dollar earned by men without children, based on 2015 data from Statistics Canada. 41

              A 2019 report released by RBC echoed this, finding that the motherhood earnings gap persists for at least 5 years after women return to work following the birth of a child. The report also found that the earnings gap is wider and lasts longer for women in the 25 to 29 age range than those who have children later. The report also found that men did not face similar penalties after becoming fathers.

              “In fact, having children for men is associated with an increase in earnings! Whether this is because employers see fathers as harder working or more committed than non-fathers is up for debate and further study, but the fact remains that career costs of parenthood are largely placed on women.” 42

              A study by the University of British Columbia found that fathers tend to receive higher salaries than childless men. 43 The findings are based on Statistics Canada data collected between 1999 and 2005, looking at more than 18,000 white men in more than 5,000 workplaces. Note: the study was limited to white men, since there is an existing pay gap between white men and men of colour. 44

              The fact that women earn less after becoming parents is often chalked up to the fact that they may shift their careers toward jobs or positions with more family-friendly hours and policies. Yet researchers are finding that these may only be options for mothers in middle- to upper-level positions. Women in lower-income and precarious work situations may face steeper barriers after becoming mothers because this flexibility doesn’t exist. 45

              There are increasing calls for governments and employers to address how structural barriers (including workplace flexibility) to equal earnings can be removed, and to recognize the value of caregiving (whether it is for children or other family members) to the economy. 46 Even when children have grown up, mothers often continue to face earning penalties associated with caregiving for aging relatives. Given Canada’s rapidly aging population, this is another cause for concern when it comes to the gender pay gap. 47 48

              • How can we eliminate the gender pay gap?

                Eliminate barriers for women to enter high-wage occupations. Eliminate barriers for women to enter careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Address systemic discrimination, particularly in male-dominated fields. Advocate for improved workplace policies (childcare, family leave, etc.). Recognize and challenge gender stereotypes that reinforce notions of “appropriate” work for men and women. Young women, despite their capabilities, “often do not believe they have the academic or professional requirements necessary for succeeding in a given job.”49

                The Canadian Women’s Foundation works to advance women’s economic equality by bringing together community organizations to share research, skills, and best practices for empowering women who are living on a low income to move out of poverty. We also invest in community programs that help women to increase their income by launching a small business, learning a skilled trade, or working in a job placement. In the programs we fund, women identify their strengths and skills and build upon them. This positive ‘asset-based’ approach avoids creating long-term dependency and builds self-confidence — an essential tool for starting the difficult journey out of poverty.

                  • Each woman receives customized wrap-around supports and just-in-time services, whether her immediate priority is food and shelter, budgeting skills, developing personal goals, creating a business plan, learning a trade, or being matched with a mentor.
                  • The goal is to help her to build a solid foundation that includes stable housing, childcare, employment skills, self-confidence, financial literacy, a strong social network, and a supportive family.

                Through this approach, we have helped thousands of women from across Canada to move out of poverty. Along the way, each woman has contributed to Canada’s economy and created a more secure future for herself and her children.

This fact sheet was last updated in May 2019. Download the PDF version of the Fact Sheet (last updated in August 2018): The Facts About the Gender Pay Gap in Canada.

  1. United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights. “Concluding observations on the sixth periodic report of Canada,” 2015. Available here.
  2. OECD. “Data: Gender Wage Gap.” 2018 Available here.
  3. Canadian Income Survey, Statistics Canada. Table 2016-0052. “Income of individuals by age group, sex and income source, Canada, provinces and selected census metropolitan areas, annual (number unless otherwise noted).” Available here.
  4. Canadian Income Survey, Statistics Canada. Table 206-0053. “Distribution of employment income of individuals by sex and work activity, Canada, provinces and selected census metropolitan areas, annual.” Available here.
  5. M. Moyser, “Women and Paid Work,” Statistics Canada, 2017. Available here.
  6. Statistics Canada, The gender wage gap in Canada: 1998 to 2018, Oct. 7, 2019. Available here.
  7. Equal Pay Coalition. “Calculating the Pay Gap: Intersectionality.” Available here.
  8. Statistics Canada, 2016 Census. No. 98-400-X2016268. Calculated using the full-time, full-year average employment income in Indigenous females ($48,590) divided by the full-time, full-year employment income of non-Indigenous males ($74,691), equaling 65%, or a 35% difference. Available here.
  9. Statistics Canada, 2016 Census. No. 98-400-X2016360. Calculated using full-time, full-year average employment income for total visible minority females ($51,173) divided by the full-time, full-year average employment income of males who are not a visible minority ($76,853), equaling 67%, or a 33% difference. Available here.
  10. Statistics Canada, 2016 Census. No. 98-400-X2016200. Calculated using full-time, full-year average employment income for female immigrants ($53,486), divided by full-time, full-year average employment income of males who are not immigrants ($75,832), equaling 71%, or a 29% difference. Available here.
  11. Statistics Canada, 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability. Table 14-10-0283-01. “Sources of income of adults with and without disabilities.” Calculated using average employment income for females with a disability ($26,880) divided by males without a disability ($50,014), equaling 54% or a 46% difference. Available here.
  12. M. Moyser, “Women and Paid Work: Introduction.” Statistics Canada, 2017. Available here.
  13. Equal Pay Coalition. “Myths About the Pay Gap: ‘The pay gap only exists because women choose lower paying work.'” Available here.
  14. A. Levanon, P. England, and P. Allison. “Occupational feminization and pay: Assessing causal dynamics using 1950-2000 U.S. census data.” Social Forces, 88(2), 2009, 865. Available here.
  15. B. Lambert and K. McInturff. “Making Women Count: The unequal economics of women’s work.” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives/Oxfam Canada, 2016, p. 6. Available here
  16. C. Vincent. “Why Do Women Earn Less than Men? A Synthesis of Findings from Canadian Microdata.” Canadian Research Data Centre Network, 2013, p. 10. Available here.
  17. M. Moyser, “Women and Paid Work: Employment patterns.” Statistics Canada, 2017. Available here
  18. A. MacEwan. “Who Earns Minimum Wage?” Canadian Dimension, 2016. Data from 2015. Available here.
  19. N. Fortin, B. Bell, and M. Bohm. “Top earnings inequality and the gender pay gap: Canada, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.” Labour Economics, 2017, p. 133. Available here.
  20. Status of Women Canada. “Women and Paid Work: Infographic.” 2017. Based on 2017 data. Available here.
  21. Status of Women Canada. “Women and Paid Work: Infographic.” 2017. Based on 2015 data. Available here.
  22. D. Macdonald. “Child care Deserts in Canada”. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2018. Available here.
  23. M. Moyser, “Women and Paid Work: Women’s careers are interrupted more frequently than men’s careers, for longer total durations.” Statistics Canada, 2017. Available here.
  24. M. Moyser, “Women and Paid Work: Women’s careers are interrupted more frequently than men’s careers, for longer total durations.” Statistics Canada, 2017. Available here.
  25. Statistics Canada, The gender wage gap in Canada: 1998 to 2018, Oct. 7, 2019. Available here.
  26. The Government of Canada. “Federal Budget 2018: Equality + Growth: A Strong Middle Class.” 2018, p. 42. Available here.
  27. Ontario Newsroom, “Ontario First Province to Pass Pay Transparency Legislation.” 2018. Available here.
  28. CBC News: “Ontario quietly delays implementation of pay transparency law,” Nov. 21, 2018. Available here.
  29. “Final Report of the Gender Wage Gap Steering Committee.” Prepared for Ontario Minister of Labour and Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues, 2016, p. 16. Available here.
  30. Ontario Equal Pay Coalition. “Equal Pay Day.” Available here.
  31. World Economic Forum. “2017 Global Gender Gap Report.” P. 25. Available here.
  32. J. Milli et al. “The Impact of Equal Pay on Poverty and the Economy.” Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2017. Available here.
  33. Statistics Canada, Table 477-0029. “Postsecondary enrolments, by program type, credential type, Classification of Instructional Programs, Primary Grouping, registation status and sex, annual (number).” CANSIM. Calculated by dividing the number of female post-secondary enrolments in all programs, (1,145,043) by the total number of post-secondary enrolments (2,034,957) for males and females combined. Available here.
  34. Statistics Canada, 2016 Census of Population. No. 98-400-X2016253. Available here.
  35. D. MacDonald. “Climbing Up and Kicking Down: Executive Pay in Canada.” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2018, p. 2. Available here.
  36. N. Fortin, B. Bell, and M. Bohm. “Top earnings inequality and the gender pay gap.”Labour Economics, 2017, p. 119. Available here.
  37. M. Cornish. ‘Every Step You Take: Ontario’s Pay Gap Ladder.” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2016, p. 6. Available here.
  38. M. Cornish. ‘Every Step You Take: Ontario’s Pay Gap Ladder.” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2016, p. 5. Available here.
  39. T. Hudson and A. Milan. “Senior Women: Prevalence of low income among senior women and men has risen since the mid-1990s.” 2016. Available here.
  40. Statistics Canada. Table 105-0508. “Canadian health characteristics, annual estimates, by age group and sex, Canada (excluding territories) and provinces, occasional (number unless otherwise noted).” CANSIM. Available here.
  41. Women and Paid Work, Statistics Canada, 2017. Available here.
  42. RBC Economic Research, Family Matters: The Cost of Having Children on Women’s Careers, March 2019. Available here.
  43. Daddy Bonus? UBC Study Finds Dads Make More than Their Childless Peers, Global News, June 15, 2018. Available here.
  44. Workplace Variation in Fatherhood Wage Premiums: Do Formalization and Performance Pay Matter?, Work, Employment and Society Journal, 32(4), 768–788. Available here.
  45. Toronto Star: How Can We Fix the Motherhood Penalty Problem?, Heather Scoffield, May 9, 2019. Available here.
  46. The Globe and Mail: The Motherhood Penalty: How Our Reluctance to Value Caregiving Hurts Women at Work, Ann-Marie Slaughter, October 1, 2015. Available here.
  47. RBC Economic Research, Family matters: the cost of having children on women’s careers, March 2019. Available here.
  48. Vanier Institute of the Family, Infographic: Women, Caregiving, and Work in Canada, 2017.Available here.
  49. C. Vincent. “Why Do Women Earn Less than Men? A Synthesis of Findings from Canadian Microdata.” Canadian Research Data Centre Network, 2013, p. 4 Available here.