Women have closed the gap with men when it comes to post-secondary education, according to the latest Statistics Canada report, which found for the first time that slightly more working-age females than males have a college or university degree.

The report, based on data from the 2011 National Household Survey that replaced the long-form census, said that 64.8 per cent of women aged 25 to 64 have pursued post-secondary education, compared to 63.4 per cent of men.

When looking at men and women aged 25 to 34, the gender gap widens, with women ahead by a margin of about 10 per cent.

“That’s a trend that’s been creeping up on us over the last couple of decades,” Doug Norris, lead demographer at Environics Analytics who previously worked at StatsCan, told CTV News Channel.

Susan McDaniel, Canada Research Chair in global population and life course at the University of Lethbridge, said while the trend is not surprising to her as a professor. However, there is a caveat.

“If you teach in a university as I do you know that’s coming, you recognize that. What’s happening is more women of workforce age, so this is not just young women but all women of workforce age, have university degrees than men,” McDaniel told CTV’s Power Play.

“But that stops when you get to the doctorate level, there’s still more men than women. It’s still an interesting thing because it’s the first time ever that we’ve seen more women of workforce age who have university degrees than men.”

The 2006 NHS found that 60.7 per cent of adults had a post-secondary education, while in 1961 only four per cent did.

According to the 2011 NHS, Canadians with a post-secondary degree are more likely to be employed. Nearly 82 per cent of those holding a university degree were employed, compared to nearly 56 per cent of those without a post-secondary education.

While more women are pursuing higher education, however, they are largely still working in jobs long associated with their gender, including childcare, nursing and administrative assistants. Far more men than women are truck drivers, carpenters, welders or work in other skilled trades.

But the job most common among both genders is retail sales, which, for the first time ever, is the sector with the largest share of Canadian workers.

“It’s taken over from manufacturing as where the most people are working, and it’s true for both men and women,” Norris said.

In 2006, manufacturing was number one, with retail in second place. This latest report shows manufacturing has dropped to third place, with health care and social assistance moving into second place.

Other data contained in the report includes:

  • The number of Aboriginal Canadians with post-secondary education is 48.4 per cent, up from 44 per cent in 2006. “Younger aboriginals are doing better than their elders were,” McDaniel said. “So that’s a good sign, it’s moving in the right direction.”
  • However, only 9.8 per cent of Aboriginal Canadians have a university degree, up slightly from 2006 but well below the non-Aboriginal population.
  • On the other hand, 38.1 per cent of immigrants have a university degree compared to 24.2 per cent of non-immigrants.
  • Nearly 19 per cent of workers were over the age of 55 in 2011, up from 15.5 per cent in 2006. “And that’s bound to only increase as more baby boomers reach the age of 55 and above,” said McDaniel, pointing out that policy decisions in recent years have been designed to keep people in the workforce, including the federal government’s decision to increase the eligibility age for Old Age Security to 67 from 65.
  • Travelling to work is a solo endeavour. Nearly 75 per cent of workers drive to their jobs, compared to only 12 per cent who travel by public transit. The number of people who walk to work was down to 5.7 per cent in 2011 from 6.4 per cent in 2006. The number of workers who ride their bicycles remained steady at about 1.3 per cent.