On World Cities Day we reflect on the ways women across Ontario are uniquely impacted by the gender wage gap. The gender wage gap persists in Ontario, no matter how it is measured. The hourly wage gap sits at 13 percent as of 2022, only six percentage points less than 1998; this means that, on an hourly basis, women make 87 cents on average for every dollar made by a man. While the gap persists it varies by sector, sub sector, and even geography.

Last year the BBC published the article Why young women earn more than men in some US cities which considers factors that may contribute to women achieving pay equity or out-earning men in certain US major cities. I was curious if the factors identified in the US applied to cities across Ontario.

From the article we learned that municipalities with higher levels of women with post-secondary education seem to be more likely to have a smaller gender wage gap. Another contributing factor to the wage gap, according to the BBC, is predominance of female-dominated industries. Jurisdictions with a greater number of industries with female-job classes tend to have smaller wage gaps (and vice versa). Average age of motherhood also seems to be a factor: women who are mothers tend to make less, on average, than women without children and US jurisdictions where the average maternal age at first birth is lower tend to have wider gender wage gaps (unfortunately, city-level data is not currently available for maternal age in Ontario, but you can read more about the impact of motherhood and unpaid domestic labour here). In addition to the factors suggested in the above BBC article, we also know that the gender wage gap is often larger for racialized and newcomer women.

When we take these indicators and apply them to Ontario jurisdictions (particularly jurisdictions with notably higher or lower gender wage gaps), we can get a better understanding of how they can contribute to income discrepancies between men and women across the province. Using data from Statistics Canada we analyzed just under 50 municipal jurisdictions across Canada. Of course, the data isn’t perfect, but did provide interesting insights that warrant greater research. Below we’ll share what we learned about 3 Ontario Municipalities, Elliot Lake, Leamington, and Petawawa.

Elliot Lake is a city in Algoma District that was previously a mining town in the 1950s and produced most of the world’s uranium for decades. As most of the mines shut down, the main industries today are cottaging and tourism. With women on average making 92% of what men make, the wage gap is approximately 17% smaller in Elliot Lake than the rest of Ontario.

Almost 90% of people living in Elliot Lake were born in Canada. In addition, only 3% of individuals in Elliot Lake identify as a visible minority – this is 31% less than the percentage of the population that identifies as racialized in Ontario. Approximately 24% more of the population speaks one of Canada’s official languages as their first language when compared to the rest of the Ontario. While they are imperfect indicators, we know that newcomer women face greater barriers in the workforce; therefore, being born in Canada, not being a racialized individual, and speaking one of Canada’s official languages as a first language may contribute to women’s economic success in this jurisdiction.

However, while postsecondary education attainment levels appear to be a determinant of a smaller wage gap, only 41% of men and 50% of women aged 25 to 64 years old have a postsecondary certificate, diploma, or degree in Elliot Lake. Additionally, only 9% of men and 15% of women aged 25 to 64 years old in Elliot Lake have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Although women still report higher rates of educational attainment than men, the rates of post-secondary education for both men and women are significantly lower in Elliot Lake than the rest of Ontario, which is not aligned with what we might expect.

Looking at another jurisdiction, in Leamington, the gender wage gap is almost 86%, over 10% lower than the rest of Ontario. Leamington is one of Ontario’s southernmost towns and is the second largest municipality in Essex County.

Leamington has significantly lower educational attainment levels than the provincial average for both men and women, which is surprising considering the low gender wage gap. Also surprising is the predominance of male-dominated industries: agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting jobs make up just under 19% of the labour force, and account for 20% of male jobs and 16% of female jobs in the jurisdiction. In comparison, this same industry sector accounts for just over 1% of Ontario’s entire labour force. The second largest industry in Leamington is manufacturing which is also made up of predominantly male job classes, and it makes up almost 18% of the jurisdiction’s labour force.

Fewer women are part of the labour force in Leamington – the participation and employment rates for women are both significantly lower than the rest of Ontario.

Finally we can look briefly at Petawawa, who on the other end of the spectrum has a significantly higher gender wage gap than the rest of Ontario. Petawawa is the largest community in Renfrew County and is known for its access to natural resources and strong military history and involvement. In Petawawa women make 53% of what men make on average, making the wage gap 22% larger than the Ontario average.

Petawawa has a significantly lower number of immigrants than the rest of Ontario (just over 6% of the population identify as immigrants, which is 24% lower than the average in Ontario) and a low percentage of the population identifies as a visible minority (just over 6% for both men and women, approximately 28% lower than the rate in Ontario).

Additionally, a much larger percentage of the population of Petawawa spoke one of Canada’s official languages as a first language, when compared with the Ontario average. While we might expect that a lower number of newcomers and racialized individuals may contribute to a lower wage gap, we also know that this is only one of many factors.

In Petawawa, 59% of the population aged 25 to 64 years old has earned a postsecondary certificate, diploma, or degree, which is almost 10% lower than the average in greater Ontario. These numbers drop significantly when looking at percentage of the population with a Bachelor’s degree or higher: only 20% of the population of Petawawa has achieved a Bachelor’s degree or higher (almost 17% less than the provincial average) and only 15% of men and almost 27% of women have done the same. The lower levels of university education may be a factor contributing to the larger gender wage gap in Petawawa.

Turning a spotlight on a handful of Ontario jurisdictions can help us understand the factors that may be contributing to rising or falling gender wage gaps. Perhaps surprisingly, many of these factors seem to be in opposition to what we might expect, or they don’t seem to paint the full picture. The examples above remind us that indicators such as education, industry, and immigration status are only a starting point in understanding why the gender wage gap exists, and how we can lessen it. With seventy percent of the gender wage gap remaining unexplained, we need more research on factors that may be contributing to the gender wage gap and we need a commitment to closing these data gaps.

To learn more about factors that may contribute to women’s access to economic and personal security in cities across Ontario (and Canada), read the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative’s report, The Best and Worst Places to be a Woman in Canada 2019