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Women's Economic Inequality

What are the causes of women's economic inequality?

Although women make tremendous contributions to the economy, women's contributions are not valued in the same way as men's.
This is, in part, due to societally constructed ideas about the value of women’s independence – economic and otherwise. As a result women consistently find themselves at a lower economic status than men. The majority of poor people in Canada and in the rest of the world are women and women make up 70% of the world's 1.5 billion people living in absolute poverty. The fact that women as a group are poorer than men, that women's poverty is more severe than men's, and that the rate of poverty among women is increasing is referred to as the 'feminisation of poverty'.1

What are the causes of women's economic inequality?

  1. Women earn less than men. In Manitoba, women earn just 72 for every $1 that men make. For women with disabilities, Aboriginal women, and women of colour, the differences are even greater. According to OECD 2006 figures, women worldwide earn an average of just over 50¢ of what men earn. A study by the London School of Economics estimates that being female costs the average woman approximately 250,000 or $500 000 (more than half a million Canadian dollars!) over her lifetime. If she decides to become a mother, that number is even higher.2

  2. Unpaid labour. Much of women's work is not underpaid, it is entirely unpaid. Women perform 2/3 of unpaid caregiving work in Canada, worth up to $319 billion to the money economy annually. According to the United Nations, globally that number reaches $11 trillion. The enormous demands of unpaid work reduce many women's opportunities to participate in the paid work force. Many others accept part-time jobs or less demanding and lower-paying jobs, in order to keep up with the demands of unpaid work. Some Canadian statistics suggest that women without children earn as much as 97 for every dollar earned by men, while women with children earn as little as 52.3

  3. Women live longer than men. Women make up 51% of the population of Manitoba. However, women make up 55% of the population of 65-74 year-olds and 62% of the population of people 75 and older. Half of women aged 65 and over in Canada who live alone, live in poverty because they have no pension of their own.

  4. Single-parenthood discriminates. In 2000, 56% of single mothers in Manitoba lived below the poverty line. Between 1990 and 1995 there was a 2.4% decrease in the average family income but for families headed by a single mother, the decrease was 7.2%. In 2007, 40% of children in female lone-parent families were low income compared with 11% in 2-parent families and 15% in all other families.4 As the number of single-headed households across the globe increases, so does the incidence of women's and children's poverty.

  5. Unequal distribution of resources. According to the United Nations, women do 2/3 of the world's work yet earn only 5% of the world's income and own less than 1% of the world's real property. Women often lack resources that might help them get out of poverty. This includes capital, land, and borrowing opportunities.

  6. Women's lack of access to education. Education is a key to women's economic empowerment. While many women in Canada are now graduating from university - more than men - women didn't always have access to higher education (see Helen's story). And today tuition levels are increasing creating new barriers and students are graduating with much higher debt loads. Although women and men participate at an almost equal rate in training programs, women actually receive substantially fewer hours than men, an increasing trend through the 1990s.5 In Manitoba, although they represent a majority of students, women are more likely than men to be studying part-time. Part-time students are not eligible for Manitoba Student Aid and bursaries. The full-time eligibility requirement disproportionately affects women and is compounded by the lack of adequate child care services.6 In much of the rest of the world women are still underrepresented at all levels of education and training.

  7. Job segregation. Although women are still paid less for the same work (unequal pay for equal work), the major reason for women's pay inequality is job segregation. The kinds of paid work in which women are more likely to be involved (childcare, secretarial, and clothing production) pay less than the kinds of work in which men are more likely to be involved (construction and trades, truck drivers, sales people). Women consistently find themselves in low-status, low-paying jobs with few opportunities for advancement and are overrepresented among part-time workers and in the informal sector. Globally, employment in the informal sector is on the rise. Eight out of ten women workers are considered to be in vulnerable employment in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, with global economic changes taking a huge toll on their livelihoods.7

The 2009 Bangkok Declaration for Beijing +15 expressed concern that “women continue to bear major responsibility for unpaid work, particularly care-giving work and this contributed to weaker labour market attachment for women, weaker access to social security benefits and less time for education/training, leisure and self-care and political activities.” 8


  • Global Poverty Quiz

    "It is better for the world that women be economically independent."

    Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1898

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