Labour Force Activity of Women in Canada; a Comparative Analysis of Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Women

By White, Jerry; Maxim, Paul et al. | The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, November 2003 | Go to article overview

Labour Force Activity of Women in Canada; a Comparative Analysis of Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Women


White, Jerry, Maxim, Paul, Gyimah, Stephen Obeng, The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology


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.

The Literature

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). …

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