All your wage gap questions answered

Do women really make less than men?

Women make less than men. In Canada. In the United States. In every country in the world.

Belgium (yes, chocolate lovers, Belgium) has the smallest wage gap in the world. Women earn just 6% less than men in Belgium. Canada comes in 25th among high-income countries, with women earning, on average, 20% less than men.

Photo credit: The Wrap


That’s because women don’t work as many hours as men, right?


Working full-time, full year, women make 20% less than men in Canada.

Aren’t women working less (and getting paid less) because: babies?

Women do take more time off than men when they have children. Just under a year on average. They are also much more likely to cite childcare as the reason they work part-time.

However, no.

The average age at women have children in Canada is 29 years old. If you look at the average wages of men and women under age 25 (so, no babies), there is still a wage gap (of 10-20% depending on educational level). Working full time, full year. No babies. No breaks.

The average woman in Canada has between one and two children in her lifetime. If she takes the average 44 weeks of parental leave for each child, she will, at most, have lost just under two years of work experience. This is a relatively minor difference in experience levels between men and women, particularly considered as two out of forty years of a working life. Yet women finish out their working lives earning between 26-32% less than their male peers of the same age and educational level. Working full time.

But all those women taking over universities?

Women’s levels of post-secondary education have increased significantly over the past thirty years. So too have men’s levels of education. Women make up just over half of all university graduates in Canada today. Yet, women with university degrees still earn 10-30% less than their male peers (depending on their age cohort).

Aren’t women just choosing lower paying jobs?


Out of the 500 occupations surveyed in the last census, there were only 31 occupations in which women (working full-time, full year) made more than their male peers. Those women represent 2.7% of all women employed in full-time work. For the other 97.3% of women working full-time in the other 469 occupations, the wage gap persists.

For example, the top three most popular occupations for women with of post-secondary education are: teacher, nurse, and administrator. Working full time, women in those three occupations will make 10% (teacher), 7% (nurse), and 26% (administrator) less than men working in the same occupation, with the same education.

But Patricia Arquette, she’s good, right?

Forbes Magazine’s annual tally of the highest paid actors in Hollywood found that although a handful of actresses are still making millions of dollars a year, their earnings are less than half the earnings of their highly paid male counterparts, with a wage gap nearing 60% for Hollywood’s top female earners.

And in Canada? Average salaries for men and women who choose acting as their profession don’t come close to those big figures. Actresses in Canada earn just under $25,000 a year–a whopping 39% less than their male peers (who also don’t earn very big salaries on average at $41,000/year).

It can’t get worse, can it?

Yes it can.

Aboriginal women earn 10% less than Aboriginal men (working full time) and 26% less than non-Aboriginal men. Racialized women earn 21% less than racialized men and 32% less than non-racialized men. Immigrant women earn 25% less than immigrant men and 28% less than non-immigrant men.

The wage gap actually gets bigger for Aboriginal, racialized and immigrant women with university degrees. Yes, you read that right. Aboriginal women with a university degree earn 24% less than Aboriginal men with a university degree and 33% less than non-Aboriginal men with a university degree.

The wage gap is a thing.

The wage gap is a thing. It exists. It isn’t pretty. It is the face of discrimination. It isn’t going to go away if we close our eyes and hold our breath and count to one hundred and swear we didn’t do it.

The first step is for employers to ask the question: are we paying men and women the same amount for the same work? You can’t correct a mistake if you don’t know you are making it. More transparency in pay has a demonstrated effect on closing the wage gap. Because, you know, the ladies get restless when they realize they’re getting paid less than the guy next to them. Actually everyone does. (Check out the lady monkeys.)

Support wage setting institutions: unionization and collective bargaining narrow the gender wage gap. Every time.

Support your provincial pay equity commissioner.

Celebrate equal pay day.

Disney princesses support pay equity.

Don’t let it go. Take some advice from your second favourite Disney princess, Ariel, and support equal pay.


  1. I have a question, you showed a gap even for teachers.

    Yet teachers, typically are unionized staff with a collective agreement which explicit pay levels that don’t vary by gender/sex.

    The only determinants I’m aware of are years of service and academic credentials.

    Could you please explain the stated gap in that context?

  2. @Heather
    Presumably the gap between different collective bargaining units is to blame. The female dominated and undervalued work of primary school teachers is paid less than the male dominated and less undervalued work of high school teachers.

  3. Gaelan ,
    I don’t believe your response is correct. Heather, your question is a good one. I also would like to know how this is answered by the report author.

  4. The data is all taken from the 2011 National Household Survey. Variations in wages, even within unionized sectors persist across occupations. This is usually attributed to ‘vertical discrimination’ — i.e. women’s rates of promotion to more senior positions (like school principal, for example) are lower than are those of men.

  5. @Gaelan It’s not possible. The teachers, both elementary and secondary get represented as a whole by their Union provincially.

    The wage gap would have to come from university credentials (maybe there are more men with Masters degrees), or from years of seniority.

    Neither of which appear to be discriminatory.

  6. @Iris – actually, public elementary teachers are represented by ETFO in Ontario – a different union than public secondary teachers, who are represented by OSSTF. And elementary teachers with the same university education, years of education, and experience do get paid less than secondary teachers. For example, in 2011, an elementary teacher at the top of the salary grid in Toronto earned $92,878 while a secondary teacher at the top of the grid in Toronto earned $94,707 .

  7. On the subject of teachers, while I appreciate the speculative reply, I see it as highly problematic.

    You have to compare identical or near identical jobs to show a wage gap based on gender/sex.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things I think should be improved for women and for society, but I’m not convinced that overreach is helpful to the cause.

    A vice principle is not a ‘teacher’; in any school I attended they were office admin. Obviously they have a background in teaching..

    But the fair comparison would be ” Are female vice principles earning less than male ones”

    The promotion argument can be valid; however, for it to work you need to know what the gender/sex ratio of the applicants for the job were.


    Here’s my real concern, I think the bulk of the wage gap is related to retail and other low-wage, non-union service work.

    This is less an issue of discrimination in an overt sense than it is one of male factory workers or the like, in the past, being both union and militant in support of higher wages/benefits; while retail workforces tend not to have that character and therefore endure statutory minimums, or modest premiums thereon for their workers, disproportionately women.

    A stronger focus on how this might be addressed would be a better way to reduce the ‘wage gap’.

    Mandatory unionization of mass-retailers? Minimum percentages of full-time employment in same? Rebalancing the labour supply-demand market by increasing paid vacation, or reducing the overtime threshold? Or simply raising the minimum wage a bit more aggressively?

  8. Actually, I think the limited opportunities for promotion are a huge problem. You can’t restrict the comparison to women & men in the exact same jobs if women don’t get access to the same jobs.

    For example, we talk about less women than men “choosing” tech (a relatively high-paid profession) but then you read about all the women leaving tech because of sexism, GamerGate, etc. We also have the ongoing sexual harassment class action law suit against the RCMP.

    There are more and more studies that show we are quite biased in evaluating job candidates based on gender and tend to consider male candidates to be more qualified (even when names on top of CVs are randomized). For example, here’s a discussion on how this plays out in sciences and technology.

  9. So if we stay on the subject of teachers…

    Why are female teachers more likely to be working at the elementary stage, vs males at the secondary? Seems like women connect more with younger kids, while men connect more with older kids. A product of 10000+ years of biology. Makes sense, right?

    One could then argue the pay gap in teaching establishments is therefore mostly due to:
    1) differences in unions
    2) the teacher’s choice of employment,

    And has nothing to do with discrimination…

  10. Good question Daphne. The answer is that we don’t have up to date information on wages and employment for women with disabilities. The best data was collected in 2006 in the Persons with Activities Limitations Survey. The survey that replaced it hasn’t provided the same level of data. It is a huge gap.

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