Young, uneducated men's wages spike

Although more women go to uni than men, gender wage gap persists

Twenty-something women landing their first full-time jobs have made no ground in closing the income gap with men, as the booming oil and construction industries line the pockets of young, uneducated men, the latest census shows.Women 25 to 29 years old made 85 cents for every dollar earned by their brothers in the workplace in 2005 — a 15-cent gender gap that has not budged a penny in five years, the figures released Thursday by Statistics Canada show. The median earnings for women in that age group was $32,104 compared to $37,680 for men.

The screeching halt of momentum is a blow for young Canadian women who have been busy ratcheting up their university credentials in hopes of getting out of the fiscal back seat. But the labour market forces have provided a financial leg up for young men who shunned university or college and never expected to pull in high incomes with only a high school education.

“What happened to that group is these young men in Alberta saw their earnings rise as the oil boom was in full force,” Statistics Canada analyst Rene Morissette said. “During that period, young women’s earnings did not change that much. Obviously they’re not in the same type of jobs as young men, so they did not benefit from the oil boom in Alberta.”

Robin Higgins was a transit maintenance worker for the City of Ottawa when he took a leave of absence and headed out West two years ago at the age of 27 to take a job on Alberta’s oil patch. After just three-and-half months of hard labour he made $25,000 and fulfilled a dream by heading out on an adventure through Canada, Europe, Australia and Thailand.

“If you need quick money, definitely,” Higgins said, adding the attractive salary came at a price. Working 12-hour days, seven days a week in the middle of nowhere in the dead of winter isn’t easy, he said, describing the work as both arduous and dangerous. A 19-year old was killed during his 72-day stint and there’s no such thing as job security, benefits or pension plans out on the rig, said Higgins, whose post-secondary education included a one-year heavy equipment technician course.

Before the flatlining of the wage gap between ’01 and ’06, the disparity in what young men and women earned had been narrowing, albeit slowly. In 1981, Statistics Canada reported that women entering the job market were making 75 cents for every dollar earned by a man in the same age group. It took two decades to make the 10-cent gain that’s held steady since in 2001.

The agency compares wages at that age group, because research suggests male and female workers in that cohort are more likely to be on a level playing field. Both sexes are just starting their professional lives and women are less likely to have taken time away from work to raise children. Statistics Canada’s comparison is not detailed enough to show whether men and women with the same education and working side-by-side in exactly the same job are being paid differently.

The income gap was wider among older workers in 2005. Women aged 30 to 34 earned 79 cents for every dollars their brothers earned. For women aged 50 to 54, the ratio came in at 72 cents.

Labour force analysts say the professions men and women enter play a key role in the income gap. “Most numbers show that a very large number of people are in sex-segregated jobs, occupations that have 70 per cent one gender or more,” said Allison Conrad, a professor at the Richard Ivey School of Business. “If the job is mostly men, the wage you get relative to the education level you have is considerably higher than if the job is mostly women.” As well, women still traditionally gravitate to jobs where they can work with people and help others, and those jobs pay considerably less, Conrad said.

Some sociologists and feminist groups argue that not all women choose those professions, but are steered into them for a complex set of reasons that include systemic discrimination in high schools where girls are often streamed into arts courses instead of maths and sciences.

The advantage of a male-dominated construction and oil industry aside, Ronald Burke, a professor emeritus at the Schulich School of Business, said he sees the income gap narrowing among professionals. “More women have entered the workforce in managerial and professional jobs that obviously are higher paying than jobs women have had historically,” Burke said. “There has also been, in terms of organizations, more awareness and concern about pay equity to make sure that if people are in the same job, whether you’re a man or woman, that you’re getting the same pay.”

It is women themselves who are driving that change, he said. “I teach in the MBA program and it turns out that women that graduate here now are every bit as eager to get what they’re worth as men historically have been, and are more prepared to negotiate a higher salary.”

Heather Kenney, a 26-year-old Orangeville, Ont., resident studying computer sciences, said it never even occurred to her that she might be paid less than a man. That said, she was one of only two women in a class of 18 in a cyberspace security class she recently took.

Kenney, who has a summer internship lined up at a major Canadian technology firm, said that in a full-time job she’d be shocked if she found out her salary was less than her male counterparts. “I don’t think they could do that to me. If I’m in a department where people get paid a certain amount they wouldn’t be able to pay me any less because I’m a girl,” she said.

Kenney is exactly the type of person who illustrates the changing attitudes of women, said Fran Donaldson, president of the Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs. “These younger generations that are coming up, that are growing up with all kinds of technology and all kinds of expectations, aren’t simply going to be motivated and treated the same way in the workplace,” said Donaldson.

As baby boomers head into retirement the workforce is going to be desperate for labour, she added, and that will give women currency. Young women “are going to realize that they’re an economic force in the workplace because there are a lot of them and we need them.”

-with a report from CP

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