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The Gender Pay Gap

In the last Peel Halton Insight report, we reviewed overall average and median employment incomes for males and females in Ontario. When one separates high earners from the rest, it appears that male high earners have had the greatest increase in employment incomes over the last 15 years, however, female employment incomes have been rising. Because employment income for the rest of the male population has pretty well stayed flat, there has been some narrowing of the wage gap. This Insight will go deeper into the wage gap by occupation.
The most common single occupation in Ontario is that of retail salesperson. The National Occupational Classification indicates that the requirement for this position may require completion of secondary school and that a university degree or college diploma may be required by some employers.
The point is, among retail salespersons, there is a range of possible requirements. Not surprisingly, employment incomes for this position do increase with educational attainment, suggesting that there is a sorting of different retail salesperson positions based on educational requirements. Chart 1 lists the average employment income for all full-year, full-time retail salespersons in Ontario in 2010 by educational attainment.

Chart 1: Average employment income by educational attainment, full-year full-time retail salespersons, Ontario, 2010

Four categories of educational attainment are profiled: individuals with no certificate, those with a high school diploma, those with a college diploma, and those with a university degree (Bachelor or higher).
It is therefore particularly surprising to see this same employment income data broken down by gender (Chart 2).
Chart 2: Average employment income by educational attainment, full-year full-time retail salespersons, males and females Ontario, 2010

It should be emphasized that this comparison has been narrowed down considerably. It looks at individuals in one occupation; it only compares those who work full-year, full-time. In each category, individuals have the same level of educational attainment. Yet, males enjoy a wage premium over females, regardless of the level of education, earning roughly 40-50% more in each category. What is particularly striking is that the average employment income for a female retail salesperson with a bachelor degree or higher is less than the average income for a male retail salesperson with no educational credential. What is going on here?
In part, this is a reflection of what are called “occupational ghettoes.” Despite progress in gender equality, most occupations have a gender slant; and this is not only in relation to stereotypical occupations, such as truck drivers (97% male) and nurses (94% female). In most occupations, the gender split is not 50-50, despite women making up almost half of the employed labour force in Ontario (48.4%). Instead, most occupations are two-thirds either male or female. Take, as an example, professional occupations in business and finance: among financial auditors and accountants, 51.1% are female, very close to their share of the entire workforce. But this is actually irregular. Among human resources professionals, 72% are female, while among investment dealers and brokers, 70% are male. And so it goes through the majority of occupations.
How this plays out in terms of the gender pay gap can vary from occupation to occupation. In occupations where women are a large majority, the difference between male and female earnings can be quite low, simply because everyone, male and female, gets paid a lower wage. However, there are a number of occupations where women are in the majority, the gender gap is limited and the pay is relatively higher, such as in business professional occupations and in the health care.
On the other hand, there are a number of occupations with a majority of male workers where the gap between males and females is also not great – it appears that females in those occupations benefit from the higher wage set by the male majority. But there are some stereotypically male occupations in this category where women certainly do earn considerably less, such as bricklayers, upholsterers, and funeral directors.
In the case of the retail salespersons, the explanation is as follows: in the retail trade, different sub-sectors are more dominated by males or by females. For example, motor vehicle and parts dealers, or electronics and appliances stores, tend to be male-dominated sectors, while food and beverage stores tend to be staffed more by females.

Consider the breakdown of occupations by gender, as well as the average salary, for each of these subsectors:
Table 1: Percentage of females in select occupations in select retail trade subsectors, and average employment incomes for males and females in select retail trade subsectors, Ontario, 2010
  Car dealers Electronics Grocery stores
All management occupations 17% 27% 39%
Senior management 6% 12% 23%
Retail salespersons 17% 29% 64%
Elementary sales positions 19% 32% 58%
Average employment income Male Female Male Female Male Female
$59,469 $44,932 $50,141 $41,681 $46,343 $35,495
The male-dominated subsectors (car dealers, electronics) have a higher average employment income, including for females. However, the far larger number of men earning these higher salaries (including among retail salespersons) is what gives men the overall higher incomes among retail salespersons, as only a smaller number of females work in these higher-paying retail sectors.
So, it would appear that female retail salespersons earn less than male salespersons because they work in female-dominated subsectors of the retail trade, which pay less. A fair bit of analysis seeks to explain the gender gap based on women having less seniority because of interruptions in their careers caused by maternity leaves. But the fact is that the salaries for many occupations appear to be determined on the basis of whether they are considered a male or female occupation.
Looking at the data for Peel and Halton residents, one does find instances of occupations where female workers earn higher average employment incomes than males. These are listed in the following tables, Table 2 for Peel and Table 3 for Halton. (Only those occupations are profiled where there are a larger number of workers, because with a smaller sample the margin of error for the income figures becomes an issue.)
Table 2: Occupations where females earn more than males, Peel residents, 2010 (average employment income)
  Number Income Difference % Difference
4211 Paralegals 200 960 $38,033 $52,000 -$13,967 36.7%
6232 Real estate agents 1560 670 $44,292 $56,386 -$12,094 27.3%
1432 Payroll clerks 135 1270 $44,800 $49,529 -$4,729 10.6%
6521 Travel counsellors 255 720 $34,186 $37,317 -$3,131 9.2%
1241 Administrative assistants 195 5280 $41,028 $43,804 -$2,776 6.8%
6523 Airline ticket agents 270 340 $44,119 $47,037 -$2,918 6.6%
4212 Social service workers 385 1375 $46,374 $47,969 -$1,595 3.4%
7511 Transport truck drivers 8770 190 $36,049 $37,225 -$1,176 3.3%
1223 HR and recruitment officers 210 675 $53,544 $54,981 -$1,437 2.7%
4021 College instructors 565 700 $62,270 $63,594 -$1,324 2.1%
0112 Human resources managers 575 1395 $87,285 $88,938 -$1,653 1.9%
6541 Security guards 2050 670 $38,515 $39,170 -$655 1.7%
These figures should be taken with some caution, as the smaller numbers may contribute to inaccurate average employment incomes. In some instances there may be other dynamics at play. For example, among paralegals, this was an occupation that historically had a higher percentage of females. Among paralegals aged 35-64 years of age, 88% are female, while among those aged 20-34 years of age, 74% are female, so perhaps some of the income difference may be due to a higher proportion of senior level female paralegals.
The Peel Halton Insight #15 report (Pay & Gender) showed that Halton males had a significantly larger average employment income than Halton females because a larger proportion of them work in the high earner occupations. As a result, there are fewer occupations among Halton residents where the average employment income for females is greater than that for males.
Table 3: Occupations where females earn more than males, Halton residents, 2010 (average employment income)
  Number Income Difference % Difference
3112 General practitioners and family physicians 420 310 $153,745 $204,340 -$50,595 32.9%
1525 Dispatchers
285 320 $51,568 $58,401 -$6,833 13.3%
1226 Conference and event planners 95 480 $49,940 $54,609 -$4,669 9.3%
1224 Property administrators
465 300 $53,669 $58,161 -$4,492 8.4%
2174 Computer programmers and interactive media developers 1675 360 $74,480 $76,848 -$2,368 3.2%
When these occupations are compared to the data for the province as a whole, many of them actually show considerably higher averages for males than for females (at least 15% higher). These include:
  • 6521 Travel counsellors
  • 3112 General practitioners and family physicians (the Halton figures certainly appear unusual)
  • 1241 Administrative assistants
  • 1224 Property administrators
  • 0112 Human resources managers
  • 1226 Conference and event planners
  • 4021 College and other vocational instructors
The occupations at the provincial level with female average employment incomes greater than those for males are:
  • 0132 Postal and courier services managers
  • 0712 Home building and renovation managers
  • 1251 Court reporters, medical transcriptionists and related occupations
  • 2134 Chemical engineers
  • 2242 Electronic service technicians (household and business equipment)
  • 4012 Post-secondary teaching and research assistants
  • 4161 Natural and applied science policy researchers, consultants and program officers
  • 4216 Other instructors
  • 5133 Musicians and singers
  • 5134 Dancers
  • 5212 Technical occupations related to museums and art galleries
  • 6322 Cooks
  • 6511 Maîtres d'hôtel and hosts/hostesses
  • 6523 Airline ticket and service agents
  • 6532 Outdoor sport and recreational guides
  • 6541 Security guards and related security service occupations
  • 8611 Harvesting labourers
None of this is to suggest that, for example, a female conference planner who moves to Halton will experience an increase in income. Nor as a female should one expect that in all instances for these occupations that one’s employment income will surpass that of a male counterpart. Rather, in a world where males usually get paid more than females, there might be instances where the gap is narrower.
What this information means for job seekers and career choices: 
  • There is an obvious gender gap when it comes to employment income.
  • Part of that gender gap is the result of certain occupations being classified as typically male or female occupations, with male occupations attracting higher incomes.
  • The pay gap within any given occupation can be larger or smaller and warrants detailed research. In some male-dominated occupations, women employed in those occupations appear to benefit from the pay premium of working in a “male” occupation, but that is not always the case.
  • Similarly, while many typically female occupations pay less, there are some, such as among business and finance professionals or in the health care sector, where the pay appears higher and the gender gap is narrower.
  • Pay gaps provide more reasons for women to consider traditionally ‘male-dominated’ occupations, such as skilled trades. To learn more about women in skilled trades, take a look at our skilled trades resources page
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