Millennial women in Canada may not be too thrilled about their coffee-shop jobs and crippling student debt, but they can at least take comfort in the fact that they’re doing better than their neighbours to the south.
Young Canadian women are financially better off than their American counterparts. The reason? Extended parental leave. A recent TD Economics study reports that Canadians aged 25-34 are richer and more likely to have a job than Americans the same age.
“In large part, the better performance in Canadian employment rates and income among millennials has been due to higher female labour force participation,” write the study’s authors, economists Beata Caranci and Diana Petramala. “Employment rates for males between the age of 25 to 34 have stagnated across time, whereas female employment rates in Canada are at near-record high levels.” They point out that American women do not participate in the workforce to the same degree that Canadian women do.
Why are Canadian millennial women doing better?
Young Canadian women started to edge ahead of their American counterparts in 2001, before which they had similar levels of participation in the labour force. The study authors stress that it’s no coincidence that Canadian women became more likely to hold down jobs after 2001, as this timing coincides with the Canadian government’s expansion of parental leave from 10 weeks to 35 weeks. Today, Canadian women who’ve worked for as little as six months with a company can go on maternity leave for 17 months, after which both parents are eligible to share 37 weeks of parental leave.
The U.S., by contrast has no guaranteed paid maternity leave — in fact, many critics have called it out for having “the worst maternity laws on earth,” given that the United States is the only industrialized nation without paid maternity leave.
Canada’s extended parental leave has a tangible impact on people’s lives. Canadian blogger Stephen Callaghan says Canada’s extended paternal leave benefited him and his wife: “My wife got, basically, a year off, paid,” Callaghan explained to HuffPost Live. “She gets the equivalent of something like 90 percent of her salary, but it’s on a sliding scale depending on how close it is to the birth of the child.”
Keeping even more women in the workforce
Justin Trudeau caused a stir when he made campaign promises to add more time to parental leave, promising to extend it from the current 12 months to 18 months “when combined with maternity bene?ts — at a lower benefit level.” Trudeau believes doing so would make parental leave more accessible to Canadians: “This added flexibility will increase the use of parental leave benefits, which means it would translate into an investment of $125 million more per year in the economic security of Canadian families.”
While some Canadian women are eagerly waiting to see if he delivers on these promises, others, like Queens University professor Kathleen Lahey, think extending parental leave even further in its current state isn’t in women’s best interests. Instead, Lahey tells CBC that the government ought to focus on providing women with things like “good, quality, affordable childcare to break the financial barriers that are preventing women’s work from paying equally with men’s,” and more parental leave for the father or other parent.
Lahey worries that too many women wind up stuck permanently working part-time in Canada, rather than fully reintegrating into the workforce: “The longer the maternity leave, the higher the likelihood that women will not return to paid work at all or will return on a part-time basis.”
The take home? Canadian millennial women may be better off than those in the U.S., but we still have a long road ahead when it comes to achieving full gender equality in the workplace.
More: Ask a raging feminist: How can we improve maternity leave in the U.S.?