AS LEVESQUE ET AL. (2001: 13) WRITE, "...scientists in Canada and Quebec have paid little attention to date on the living and working conditions of Aboriginal women." The present study attempts to fill this gap in knowledge by comparing the levels of labour force activity of Aboriginal women with non-Aboriginal women in Canada. This study focusses primarily on the effects of familial status and household structure on labour force participation, and determines whether these factors have similar elasticities within the Aboriginal population and non-Aboriginal population.
Canada's Aboriginal population is not monolithic--a recent study of income inequality suggests dramatic differences among Aboriginal people (see Maxim et al., 200la). Accordingly, to examine the underlying patterns of labour force activity, we look at three distinct groups of women: Registered/Status Indian; Other Aboriginal women, excluding the Inuit; and non-Aboriginal. Registered Indians and non-Status Indians are generally people of North American Indian descent. People belonging to groups that had negotiated treaties with the Crown are generally Registered Indians, and many of these treaties included the establishment of reserve lands where members of the groups have lived historically. Non-Status Indians, mostly descendants of mixed parentage, are not registered under the Indian Act and, for the most part, are not members of Indian bands, and relatively few live in reserve communities. Non-Aboriginal refers to Canadians who have no Aboriginal ancestry.
Previous research indicates significantly lower rates of labour force participation and higher unemployment rates among Aboriginal Canadians--especially among Registered Indians (Drost and Eryou, 1991; Government of Canada, 1980; Maxim et al., 200la; Nicholson and MacMillan, 1986; Peters and Rosenberg, 1995). In the early 1980s, labour force participation rates for "Indians" was 40%, as compared with 60% for "non-Indians," while the unemployment rates were estimated at 18% and 8%, respectively (Government of Canada, 1980). Studies in the 1990s showed similar patterns. For example, the labour force participation rates in 1990 for all Canadians were 76.4% for men and 59.9% for women, but the corresponding rates for Aboriginal people were 65.4% and 49.6% for men and women, respectively (RCAP, 1996b). This indicates the serious unemployment problem among Aboriginal peoples (Drost and Eryou, 1991). The relatively high levels of unemployment have been attributed, in part, to barriers to entry into the labour market, including the lack of employment opportunities in or near reserve communities and discrimination in the education system and job market (George and Khun, 1994).
Among Aboriginals, significant disparities in participation rates have been found in association with Status and reserve residency (Clatworthy et al., 1995; George et al., 1995; Hull, 2000; RCAP, 1996a). Participation is highest among non-Status Indians and lowest among Status Indians (Clatworthy et al., 1995). The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples noted that Aboriginal people residing in urban areas, largely non-Status Indians and Metis, have labour force participation rates approaching those of non-Aboriginal people, whereas Registered Indians and Inuit Canadians have dramatically lower rates of participation (RCAP, 1996a). Also, those living on-reserve have lower labour force participation rates than those living off-reserve (George et al., 1995).
Several factors, such as educational attainment, geography, age, gender and familial structure are known to influence differences in labour force participation. With respect to education, higher levels of attainment are associated with higher participation rates and lower unemployment rates. The differences in labour force participation between Aboriginals and nonAboriginals have been found to decline substantially at higher levels of educational attainment (Drost and Eryou, 1991; Drost, 1995). For example, using the 1991 Census, Drost (1995) found that the unemployment rate was a staggering 36% among Aboriginals with a less than a Grade 9 education. This declined to 18% among those with a secondary school diploma, trade certificate or college diploma, and to about 9% among those holding a university degree. These results suggest that higher levels of education seem to benefit Aboriginal peoples' employment opportunities.
Geography also appears to influence labour force participation and employment. The 1991 Census indicates significant differences in the rates of participation for east-central and western Canada. Overall, the lowest rates of participation for Aboriginal people are in the Prairie and Atlantic provinces, while the highest rates are found in Ontario (Clatworthy, et al., 1995). Women are less likely to participate in the labour force, but if they are in the labour force, they are less likely to be unemployed (Hull, 2000). In Quebec, Levesque et al. (2001) found that Aboriginal women's labour force participation rates were 10% lower than those of their male counterparts, despite, on average, having more education. According to the Saskatchewan Women's Secretariat (1999), Aboriginal women are much less likely than non-Aboriginal women to work in the paid labour force. However, the labour force participation and wage gaps between Aboriginal women and non-Aboriginal women are smaller than the gaps among males in both groups (George et al., 1995).
A significant variation in labour force participation by familial structure has also been observed. While Clatworthy et al. (1995) found the lowest rates of participation among lone parents, they did not find the presence and number of children to be highly predictive of labour force participation. Although the presence of minor children is associated with lower rates of participation in Saskatchewan, substantial differences are found between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women. The participation rate for Aboriginal women with one or more children under the age of six years is 25%, compared with 74% for non-Aboriginal women. Where there are children over six years of age, the rates are 58% and 81%, respectively (Saskatchewan Women's Secretariat, 1999). This suggests a differential impact of family structure on labour force participation patterns between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women.
Although most of these studies are descriptive, we can discern a fairly consistent pattern where Registered Indians in general, and the less educated in particular, have lower rates of participation and higher rates of unemployment than the general population. The other parts of the Aboriginal population, largely living off-reserve and in more urban centres, have rates of participation lower than those of the general population (with some exceptions in the most recent studies), but much closer to the non-Aboriginal population than the Registered Indian population. The unemployment rates and population employment ratios are less favourable for all Aboriginal peoples--and, in particular, Registered Indians--across nearly all studies, localities and times. The two questions that are rarely explored in any of the studies are: 1) what are the potential reasons for these patterns, and 2) what are the policy implications of these patterns? We review some theoretical explanations in the following sections, then present our data analysis and conclude with a brief set of points related to the policy implications arising from the results of this study.
Existing explanations of variations in labour force activity fall into two broad perspectives: those based on individual characteristics of the persons who make up the population; and those that are based on structural characteristics of the society in which the population lives. Explanations of labour force participation based on individual characteristics follow a simple theme: those not in the labour force lack something that those in the labour force possess. Within human capital theory, non-participation is linked to deficits in human capital, particularly education. Under this framework, the solution involves significant investments in educational and vocational training, and enhancing the work-like experiences of those not in the labour force (Wien, 1986).
Many studies looking at individual factors argue that there is often a mismatch between the Aboriginal person and the requirements of the labour market. George et al. (1995), for instance, start with this set of explanations but find they are not completely satisfying. Patrinos and Sakellariou (1992) find that, while one aspect of the difference in labour force participation can be explained by individual characteristics, unobserved individual characteristics such as ability, health, culture and structural issues--such as discrimination--may also influence the outcomes. Banerjee et al. (1991), for example, found that about 42% of the Aboriginal-non-Aboriginal differences in wage gap is unexplained, and likely accounted for by such factors as culture and discrimination. The need to look for explanations, apart from variations in individual characteristics, opens the investigation of the structures within which Aboriginal people live and work.
The other primary theoretical perspective explores structural reasons for non-participation. Since the 1960s, researchers have put forward several explanations assumed to underlie international development. These explanations have also been applied to issues related to intranational issues and can therefore be used to understand Aboriginal labour market participation. Modernization theory, for example, argues that a mismatch exists between the culture of an underdeveloped area and the new globalized economic order. Honigmann (1965) noted that the culture and practices of some communities are not synchronized with the modern economic juggernaut.
A variation of this perspective can be applied to issues of unemployment and labour force participation of many First Nations. Some investigators thus argue that the First Nations cultures and languages keep them from integrating into the modern Canadian economy. Peters and Rosenberg (1995) point out that modernization theory, and by extension, its …