News Canada

Native women with degrees earn more than non-native sisters

CHRISTINA SPENCER, Parliamentary Bureau

OTTAWA - Amid dismal statistics about the ongoing wage gap between aboriginals and other Canadians, one optimistic fact stands out: native women with a university degree now boast higher median incomes than non-native women.

The "exceptional finding" may be because these educated aboriginal women gravitate to unionized or government professions such as teaching, health care or social services, says Daniel Wilson, co-author of a unique study for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives on income disparities between aboriginals and other Canadians.

It may also be because these are professions with explicit employment equity.

Or it may be due to the fact that aboriginal women graduates tend to be two or three years older than non-aboriginals and bring more maturity and life experience into the workforce.

Whatever the reason, the finding based on Statistics Canada census data is a "bright signal," said Wilson.

According to the 2006 census, aboriginal women with bachelor's degrees earned a median $36,720, compared to $34,308 for non-native women. At the master's level, aboriginal women earned $48,902 compared with $44,381 for their non-aboriginal sisters.

Aboriginal men at the bachelor's level are still earning less than their non-aboriginal counterparts.

While more education will help aboriginals close the lingering wage gap with other Canadians, Wilson cautioned it's not a "silver bullet."

Still, "(education) is an important part of the answer and obviously anything that helps First Nation, Inuit or Métis people get a university degree is going to have a beneficial impact not only for those communities but for Canadian society."

More generally, the study found overall aboriginal incomes still continue to trail the rest of Canada. In the 2006 census, the median aboriginal income was $18,962, while non-aboriginal Canadians posted a median of $27,097. The income difference was slightly smaller than during the 2001 or 1996 census.

Even so, "at this rate it would take 63 years for the gap to be erased," the study says.