Women in Canada are more likely to work — and work longer hours — than their U.S. counterparts, according to a new report from Citigroup.
Despite getting more women into the workforce, Canada still hasn’t closed the pay gap between men and women, leaving a blemish on its gender equality record. It ranks 16th, according to the Global Gender Gap Index. The United States ranks 49th.
Looking at how many women are working is important. Not that long ago, few women were able to work outside the home.
Though women were called to the factory floors during World Wars I and II, they were mostly kept out of the labor force. Those who did work were relegated to traditionally “female jobs,” such as a teacher, nurse or secretary. (Those jobs pay much less.)
That began to change in the 1950s, when female participation jumped in both countries because of push and pull factors:
- The cost of homes and college education shot up, creating a need for two incomes.
- The women’s equality movement opened up opportunities for women they’d previously been denied.
Between 1950 and 1990, U.S. and Canadian women joined the workforce at about equal rates. But starting in the ’90s, something changed. The participation rate for Canadian women kept rising. But in the United States, it stagnated.
Citigroup’s report points to a few reasons why Canada continues to narrow the participation gap.
The Canadian government mandates paid parental leave of 52 weeks, meaning that mothers andfathers have more time and flexibility. Canada also has a national system of early learning and child-care centers subsidized by the government.
Many women in the United States leave the workforce when they have children because it doesn’t make economic sense for them to work. Child care can be prohibitively expensive in the United States, and there’s also a chronic shortage of space. No one is guaranteed paid leave in the United States, and there’s little public investment in child care.
Some new mothers intend to leave their jobs for only a couple of years, but they struggle to come back. Canadian universities have tried to ameliorate this problem by offering “back-to-work” programs for professional women, designed to help people return to the labor force after years away.