Public Sector Employment and Gender Wage Inequalities in British Columbia: Assessing the Effects of a Shrinking Public Sector *

Article excerpt

Abstract: The public sector is an important employer of women in Canada, particularly at the provincial level. As a result, recent initiatives to cut employment in this sector have the potential to impact broader gender inequalities in the labour market. This study uses data from the Labour Force Survey to estimate provincial-level public and private sector wage differentials in British Columbia for men and women, and to assess the degree to which declines in public sector employment in B.C. may affect the overall gender wage gap. Results confirm that provincial public sector employment is both relatively more prevalent and advantageous for women than for men. Substantial declines in employment in this sector therefore have the potential to noticeably increase the gender wage gap.

Resume: Leur public est un employeur important de femmes dans le Canada, particulierement au niveau provincial. Par consequent, les initiatives recentes pour couper l' emploi dans ce secteur a le potentiel pour influer les inegalites de sexe plus larges dans le marche travailliste. Cette etude utilise des donnees de L'enquete Sur La Population Active pour estimer le public provincial-egal et les ecarts de salaire de secteur prive dans Colombie Britannique pour les hommes et les femmes, et evaluer le degre a qui declinent dans l' emploi de secteur public dans Colombie Britannique peut affecter 1' ecart de salaire de sexe general. Les resultats confirment cet emploi de secteur public provincial est les deux relativement plus courant et avantageux pour les femmes que pour les hommes. Les declins substantiels dans l' emploi darts ce secteur ont donc le potentiel perceptiblement pour augmenter l' ecart de salaire de sexe.

Introduction

The public sector is a key employer for women. In Canada as elsewhere in the industrialized world, the growth of welfare state employment widened employment opportunities for women, contributing to their increased labour market participation across the industrialized West (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 1982; Pedersen, Schmidt-Sorensen et al., 1990; Schmidt, 1993). In most OECD countries, women are now overrepresented in public employment and Canada is no exception (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 1999). As a result, public sector employment plays a much larger relative role in shaping women's employment opportunities than men's.

Public sector employment has also been regarded as a source of particularly "good" jobs, especially for women (Canadian Council on Social Development, 1997). In part this reflects the nature of the work itself. The public sector is the main employer for teachers and health professionals in Canada, and many other female-dominated public sector jobs are similarly skilled. In addition, strong professional organizations and high levels of unionization, the enactment of employment and pay equity policies, and other institutional features contribute to a relatively more gender-equitable employment climate.

Although it is clear that the public sector comprises an important site of women's paid work in Canada, our ability to adequately assess the gendered implications of work in this area hass been hampered by insufficiently precise measures of employment in the public sector, especially with regards to provincial public sector employment. In particular, earlier data limitations have made it difficult to adequately distinguish between private and public sector workers outside of direct government service. This confuses or excludes the situation of workers in many organizations in the areas of health, education, transportation and utilities that are funded and controlled by the government and that are commonly regarded as part of the public sector (such as schools, hospitals, and crown corporations). The health and education fields in particular are major employers of women, and analyses that do not properly distinguish between private and public sector workers in these areas exclude important sites of female employment. …