Geek looking at data

Latest Census Release Shows Canadian Women More Educated Than Ever

Published Nov 29, 2017, 07:00 AM by Doug Norris, Ph. D.

In a nation of rising educational achievement, Canadian women are now more educated than Canadian men for the first time in history: 55.9 percent of women aged 15 and over have a postsecondary degree or diploma compared to 54.5 percent of men. This is one of the key findings from Statistics Canada’s sixth and final wave of data from the 2016 Census released this morning. The final chapter of findings included information covering education, labour, journey to work, language of work, mobility and migration.



According to the 2016 Census, the education level of all Canadians continues to rise, particularly for women. Newly released data show that 64.7 percent of the population aged 25 to 64 now have a postsecondary degree or diploma compared to 60.8 percent in 2006. Almost all of this gain can be attributed to women. Two thirds of women aged 25 to 64 had a postsecondary degree or diploma, up from 60.5 percent in 2006. Proportionally, fewer men had higher education degrees (62.9 percent), and this was up only slightly from 2006 (61.1 percent).

The gender gap is much more pronounced when focusing on the younger population between the ages of 25 and 44. Within this cohort, 74.2 percent of women had a postsecondary degree or diploma compared with 65.5 percent of men. It’s worth noting that young women are also a majority of degree holders at all levels including the earned doctorate (excluding non-permanent residents).  

The most popular fields of study for women aged 25 to 44 are business, management, marketing and related support services (24.1 percent) followed by health and related fields (21.5 percent) and social and behavioural sciences and law (16.6 percent). As for men, the most popular fields of study are architecture, engineering and related technologies (35.6 percent) followed by business, management and public administration (17.8 percent), and social and behavioural sciences (8.3 percent).

As part of the increase in the percent of Canadians with post-secondary degrees, the number of adults with an apprenticeship certificate in the skilled trades also rose—from 3.9 percent in 2006 to 4.4 percent in 2016. But as women are earning more post-secondary degrees, men continue to dominate the trades. The proportion of young males aged 25 to 34 with an apprenticeship certificate jumped to 7.8 percent in 2016, up from 4.9 percent a decade earlier.And it’s unlikely that this trend will reverse itself anytime soon. More than 80 percent of all trade school certificates among people 25 to 34 are held by men, and the percentage of women with an apprenticeship certificate actually declined slightly to 1.6 percent in 2016 from 1.7 percent in 2006.

For men, an apprenticeship certificate in the trades is more lucrative than a college diploma, but it is still not as valuable as a bachelor’s degree. The median annual earnings for men with an apprenticeship certificate in 2015 were 7 percent more than for men with a college diploma and 31 percent more than men with a high school diploma, but 11 percent less than for men with a bachelor’s degree.


Gender Differences in Education and Employment

There is a large and growing gap in education levels between young males and young females. In 2016, for the population aged 25 to 34, 74 percent of females and 64 percent of males had a postsecondary degree—compared with 71 percent and 62 percent, respectively, in 2011.

In 2016, younger women aged 25 to 44 were a majority in many professional and scientific occupations, and they were represented in much higher proportions than those in the older cohort aged 45 to 64.

However, in 2016, the median employment income for full-time, full-year workers was 25 percent higher for males compared to females. For younger workers aged 25 to 34, the gap was slightly lower at 21 percent. The gap was also lower for those with a university degree at the bachelor’s or above level (18.9 percent). This reduction in the male-female gap is likely a result of the increasing education levels of women coupled with the fact that male incomes were held down by the decline in the number of manufacturing jobs.



With the increase in the level of education, the Canadian labour force is now more highly educated than ever. In 2016, nearly two thirds (63.4 percent) of the labour force had a postsecondary degree or diploma, up from about half in 2001. Just over one quarter (27.8 percent) of the labour force had a university degree at the bachelors level or higher, and more than one third (35.7 percent) of the young labour force aged 25 to 44 had a university degree.

Employment and unemployment rates varied by highest level of education. For the working age group 25 to 64, the employment rate was close to 85.5 percent and the unemployment rate was 5.5 percent for those with a postsecondary degree or diploma, compared to under 62.4 percent and about 11.6 percent, respectively, for those with less than a high school diploma.

Approximately a third of young males in the labour force aged 25 to 44 have at most a high school education compared to approximately 20 percent of women. The unemployment rate for both males and females with no postsecondary credentials was 11 percent. Young males with at most a high school education were more likely to be truck drivers, retail salespersons or trades’ helpers, while their female counterparts were more likely to be retail salespersons, cashiers or food counter attendants.

Overall, 19.4 million people, or 68 percent of the population aged 15 and over, worked at some point during 2015—an increase of 8.8 percent since 2006. However, all of the growth occurred among older Canadians aged 55 and over. The number aged 55 to 64 working increased by 43 percent and the number over 65 working doubled. In contrast, there was virtually no change in the number of workers under age 55.  

From 2006 to 2016 employment growth was strongest in service producing industries, continuing a trend that began more than 50 years ago. Gains were particularly high in health care and social assistance and retail trade. Fewer people were working in the goods producing sectors.

The delay in the age of retirement can be seen in the doubling of the number of older persons aged 65 and overworking in 2015 compared with 1995. In 2015 nearly one in five (19.8 percent) older Canadians worked at some point during the year. However, the majority of seniors worked only part time or part year; only 5.9 percent worked full time.



In 2016, four in 10 immigrants aged 25 to 64 had a bachelor’s degree or higher compared with under a quarter of the Canadian born population. The proportion of immigrants with a master’s or doctorate degree was 11.3 percent, which is more than double the rate for those degree held by Canadians who were born here (5.0 percent). Recent immigrants who arrived since 2011 were even more highly educated with 16.7 percent having a master’s or doctorate degree.

Immigrants accounted for nearly a quarter of people who worked in 2015. Their representation was even more pronounced in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) where 38 percent of all workers were immigrants.

In May 2016, the unemployment rate was 7.7 percent for both immigrants and non-immigrants. As in past years, the unemployment rate for immigrants decreased the longer they lived in Canada. For example, the rate was 11.9 percent for recent immigrants compared to 5.3 percent for those who arrived in Canada before 1990.


Aboriginal Population

The education levels of the aboriginal population have gradually increased over time. However, there remains a large gap compared with the non-aboriginal population. Overall, in 2016, close to 70 percent of the aboriginal population aged 25 to 64 had completed high school up from approximately 60 percent in 2006. In 2016, nearly half of aboriginal population aged 25 to 64 had a postsecondary degree or diploma compared to two thirds of the non-aboriginal population.

In 2016, the labour force participation rate for the aboriginal population aged 25 to 64 was 71.6 percent compared to 81 percent for the non-aboriginal population. The rate for the off-reserve aboriginal population was 74.1 percent compared to a rate of 60 percent for the on reserve population. The unemployment rate was 22.4 percent for the aboriginal population on reserve and 11.8 percent for the aboriginal population off reserve, compared with an unemployment rate of 6.1 percent for the non-aboriginal population.


Commuting to work

While technology continues to evolve to let Canadians work outside the office, few are taking advantage of it. In 2016, six percent of non-agricultural workers did most of their work at home, about the same level as in 1996. Seniors are most likely to work at home (21 percent).

Of those who braved rush-hour traffic, 68 percent drove alone to work while another six percent drove with one or more passengers and another five percent were car passengers. The remaining 21 percent used a more sustainable mode of transportation: 13.1 percent took public transportation, 7.5 percent either cycled or walked.  The percent using public transportation has gradually increased since 1996 and in fact the number of commuters using public transportation grew by 59.5 percent since 1996 while those using a car increased by 28.3 percent. The average Canadian worked spends about 30 minutes commuting to work in most large urban areas, however long commutes, over an hour each way, were most frequent in the Oshawa (21.3 percent), Barrie (18.3 percent) and Toronto (17.2 percent) CMAs.


Implications for Businesses and Marketers

The rising education levels revealed in the 2016 Census is a trend marketers will need to watch. For starters, it means marketers need to fact-check their statements as Canadians will be better equipped than ever to evaluate product claims and select the best value for them and their families.

Well educated young women will need to be a particular focus of marketers. As these women begin their professional careers and families, they will no doubt demand products and services that reflect their more independent and sophisticated lifestyle. And they will be looking for help in juggling their shopping as part of a busy schedule.

With the low growth in the labour force population, immigrants and the aboriginal population will continue to be important sources of labour supply for all organizations. Public and private sector employers need to reach out to aboriginal youth to help them gain the education and training required to become members of tomorrow’s workforce. In the case of highly skilled immigrants, more needs to be done to get quicker approval of credentials.

Over the next decade, the population of young adults between 20 and 29 years old—an important source of entry level labour force—will decline. Organizations will need to look for new ways to attract this young workforce for their job openings.


One of Canada’s leading experts on the Census, Doug Norris, Ph.D., is a Senior Vice President and Chief Demographer at Environics Analytics.

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