People cast their shadows on the sidewalks as they make their way home after work in downtown Toronto on Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Motherhood, social norms behind gender wage gap in Canada: federal docs

Department of Finance memo suggests several reasons why progress has largely stalled since 1990s

An internal government analysis concludes motherhood and the societal expectations that come with it are major factors in Canada’s wage gap between men and women.

“Since gendered expectations and social norms are clearly important factors in the gender wage gap, closing the gender gap will require broad societal changes,” says the Aug. 28 briefing note prepared for Paul Rochon, the deputy minister of finance.

The memo from the federal Department of Finance for its most senior permanent official outlines several reasons why progress on levelling the income-earning playing field between men and women in Canada has remained largely stalled since the 1990s, and suggests future efforts, including public policy, should focus on those areas.

The analysis shows that while Canadian women now achieve higher levels of education than men, and pursue high-earning careers in greater numbers, the fact that women bear children — and bear the bulk of responsibility to raise them — remains a factor in lower pay.

So do social norms that expect women to prioritize family life, which the memo suggests can also get in the way of career advancement.

“Because of social norms, women take on a greater share of household and familial responsibilities, which conflicts with paid work responsibilities,” said the memo, which The Canadian Press obtained through the Access to Information Act.

The briefing note says the responsibilities associated with motherhood play an especially important role in the wage gap.

READ MORE: As gender wage gap drops 5.5%, Stats Canada unable to explain why it remains

“Lack of workforce continuity and loss of human capital have negative consequences for women’s labour market outcomes,” says the memo, adding that the gender wage gap is roughly halved for women who do not have children.

“Expectations that women will leave work for a more extended period than men to take on child-rearing responsibilities may also explain the lower probability of being hired and lower wages,” it says.

The memo notes that advancing gender equality has been a top priority of the Liberal government.

That includes requiring the federal budget to undergo a gender-based analysis, which involves thinking about how measures might affect men and women, or boys and girls, in different ways, while taking into account other factors such as income, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation.

“This strategy helps track developments and minimize the negative effects of policy decisions on gender equality,” the memo says.

“However, improving gender equality will ultimately require identifying and tackling the key factors that sustain gender gaps.”

Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press

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