Women fresh out of university might want to consider a move to Prince Edward Island.
The National Graduates Survey, recently released by Statistics Canada, shows women who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2015 and living on P.E.I. had a median income in 2018 that was 14 per cent higher than men in the same class. Nationally, median income for women was 14 per cent lower.
At $57,000, median income for the Island women was $4,500 more than it was nationally.
Michelle Harris-Genge, director of the Inter-ministerial Women’s Secretariat, said the difference can probably be explained by the structure of the labour market on the Island.
“I’m thinking one of the reasons behind that is due to the amount of women who are involved with unionized environments, and the amount of unionized environments that we have in the province,” said Harris-Genge.
For university graduates, those jobs are likely in the civil service, in health care, and in education — work that on P.E.I. has been dominated by women.
An advantage for men at the top and bottom
But the news is not all good for Island women.
The survey looked not only at the median income, the point where an equal number of people were earning more than and less than that amount. It also looked at the cutoff for the bottom quarter of earners and for the top quarter of earners.
Here, men are doing much better. Earners on the bottom quarter were making 10 per cent more, and in the top quarter 12 per cent more, than women.
Put another way, men who were not doing so well were doing better than women not doing so well, and men doing very well were doing better than women doing very well.
UPEI economist Jim Sentance believes this is a manifestation of a familiar concept.
“One of the major features of the wage differential that people point to these days is not sort of general disadvantage of women but the glass ceiling effect, the limits on the upper end,” said Sentance.
The glass ceiling is typically thought to be something women encounter later in their career, but this study suggests women can run into it right out of school. The best jobs appear to be going to the men.
For women, the best starting jobs are only a little better than the average ones. The pay differential between the median and the top quarter is just $3,000.
Achieving pay equity
In October, Statistics Canada released a report that showed P.E.I. was the first province in Canada to achieve pay equity, with both men and women making about $24.25 an hour.
The graduate survey, going back to 2000, shows that women have consistently been getting a head start on men. While this is only a portion of the population, it suggests that somewhere in their careers women are falling behind.
Sentance said that recent research has found that women are, despite recent changes in parental leave allowances, still disproportionally punished in their careers for having children.
“Being the father of a child is no penalty whatsoever, on average,” said Sentance.
“That’s a reflection of the reality that a lot of the differences, frankly, that you see in labour-market outcomes aren’t necessarily the result of what’s happening in the labour market. They’re the result of what’s happening in the household.”
While there are laws and union agreements in place that prevent discrimination against individual women, there are still systemic problems that put women at a disadvantage, said Sentance.
Jillian Kilfoil, executive director of Women’s Network P.E.I., said one of the primary issues is access to child care.
“Not having a universal child-care system provincially or federally in Canada does a huge disservice to women in the workforce and would directly relate to that lack of advancement once they’re there in the workforce,” said Kilfoil.
“We know anecdotally that women, especially mothers, face those barriers in the workforce, but you know it’s illegal to discriminate someone based on that. So it’s really hard to capture how those barriers and how those glass ceilings get entrenched for women in the workforce.”
Harris-Genge noted it is not just about children. Whenever a family member needs care, she said, it is most typically a woman that takes time off work to provide it.
“We have to create a social society where we encourage more men to take time off,” she said, “so that there’s not a stigmatization.”
What happens in the workplace and what happens in the home feed back into each other, Harris-Genge said.
“When we make spaces and programs and policies available that generate equity, then we will experience equity. So things like the parental leave portion that is open to both men and women,” she said.
“Places where there’s diversity policies, environments where all genders are encouraged to have equal roles in the home. You know, the longer we live in that space, the greater we’re going to see the benefits of that.”