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Study: The literacy skills of New Brunswick francophones

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Released: 2016-09-19

Despite major educational progress, New Brunswick francophones continue to lag behind both their provincial anglophone counterparts and francophones from Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba on proficiency tests for literacy, numeracy and problem-solving in technology-rich environments. These difficulties are part of a broader dynamic that raises a number of socioeconomic and demographic challenges.

The findings come from a new study, entitled "The literacy skills of New Brunswick francophones: Demographic and socioeconomic issues." The study is mostly based on data from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) and the National Household Survey. It aims to pinpoint the connections between the skills-related challenges that are unique to New Brunswick's francophones and the challenges associated with the current demographic situation and the labour market.

Not only do the members of New Brunswick's francophone communities tend to be older, but their migratory patterns are generally negative as well (more of them are leaving the province than entering it). A major portion of the francophone labour force works in industry sectors that are in decline. Workers in these sectors are less likely to regularly use writing in their jobs. All these factors affect the literacy skills of New Brunswick francophones.

New Brunswick francophones lag on proficiency tests

New Brunswick francophones achieved an average score of 259 on the PIAAC literacy test in 2012, nearly 14 points below the results of their anglophone counterparts. Their performance was also at least 10 points lower than that of francophones from Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba, and that of Canadians as a whole.

Moreover, 6.9% of francophones in New Brunswick placed in the highest categories of literacy skills (Level 4 or 5 of the PIAAC literacy scale), about half the proportion observed for their anglophone counterparts (12.1%). Just over 60% of New Brunswick francophones did not reach the third level of the literacy scale, more than 10 percentage points higher than the proportion of anglophones in the province (49.8%) and Canadians as a whole (48.5%).

New Brunswick francophones post lower literacy skill levels. They are generally less educated and have a lower level of writing-related cultural capital. Just over 3 in 10 New Brunswick francophones aged 25 or older did not complete high school, at least eight percentage points higher than the proportions observed for the other groups under consideration.

The rapid aging of New Brunswick's francophone population has an impact on the level of literacy skills

New Brunswick's francophone population is older than the anglophone population in this province. According to the 2011 Census, 18.0% of New Brunswick francophones were aged 65 years or older, compared with 15.7% of anglophones in the province and 14.8% for the Canadian population as a whole.

Skill levels tend to be highest in people who are aged around 30 and to gradually decrease after that. PIAAC data reveal that the average test scores of New Brunswick francophones peak at just under 280 for individuals in the 25-to-34 age group. In the other age groups, these scores gradually decline to just below 240 for people in the 55-to-65 age group.

The negative balance of interprovincial migration for New Brunswick's francophone population affects literacy proficiency levels

Just over 60,000 francophones born in New Brunswick were living elsewhere in the country in 2011, while close to 21,000 francophones born elsewhere in Canada resided in New Brunswick, yielding a net interprovincial migration outflow of about 39,000 people.

New Brunswick posted net losses of more than 6,000 francophones who held at least a bachelor's degree. At the same time, there was a net outflow of more than 12,000 francophones whose highest educational attainment was a postsecondary diploma lower than a bachelor's degree.

Education is the primary factor in literacy skills. For New Brunswick francophones who held at least a bachelor's degree, the average score on the PIAAC literacy test was just over 300. This compared with an average score of 268 for those who held a postsecondary diploma below the bachelor's level, and less than 220 for those who did not graduate from high school.

New Brunswick francophone workers tend to be concentrated in declining industrial sectors

Francophones represented more than 40% of the labour force in declining industrial sectors in New Brunswick, while they accounted for 31.9% of the province's labour force. Workers in declining sectors (all language groups combined) recorded an average score of less than 260 on the PIAAC literacy test in 2012, more than 18 points lower than workers in sectors posting very strong growth.

In New Brunswick, 16.1% of francophone workers held positions that called for on-the-job training only, compared with 14.3% of anglophone workers. By comparison, such positions were held by 10.2% of Franco-Ontarian workers. For nearly half of all francophone workers in New Brunswick, weak literacy skills were matched with a low level of use of written materials at work. There were proportionally more francophones in this situation compared with their anglophone counterparts (34.6%) and francophones in other provinces.

Francophone workers in the education, law and social, community and government services sectors performed the best on the PIAAC literacy test, with an average score of close to 300. Half of the workers in these sectors held at least a bachelor's degree. Conversely, the average score of workers in the sales and services, trades and transportation, natural resources and manufacturing sectors was below 260.

The challenges in proficiency are particularly notable for the francophone population in northern New Brunswick

Francophones living in northern New Brunswick (252) performed more poorly on the PIAAC literacy test than those who resided in the southeast (265). More than a third of francophones aged 25 or older who lived in the north had not finished high school, nearly 10 percentage points higher than those in the southeast.

In recent years, demographic trends among the francophone population varied greatly from one region to the next in the province. While the population of francophone communities declined 6.8% in the north from 2001 to 2011, it grew by more than 9.0% in the southeast.

As well, the population in the north was slightly older than that in the southeast and the rest of the province. The proportion of people aged 65 and older was slightly higher in the north (18.3%) than in both the southeast (17.8%) and the rest of the province (17.3%).

From 2001 to 2011, the northern part of the province lost about 4,700 francophones, while the southeast gained about 3,500 francophones through intraprovincial and interprovincial migration.

Just under 20% of francophone workers in the north held positions that required only on-the-job training, compared with less than 15% for those in the southeast and the rest of the province.

  Note to readers

The data used in this study are primarily from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) and the 2011 National Household Survey.

PIAAC provides internationally comparable measures that focus on three essential skills in information processing: literacy, numeracy and problem-solving in technology-rich environments. These three skills were assessed though a measurement scale from 0 to 500. To make the results easier to interpret, the scales for measuring skills were divided into five skill levels. Level 3 is generally used as a minimum benchmark for an individual to be able to function in a knowledge-oriented society such as that of Canada.

The language groups used in this study are defined according to the criterion of first official language spoken.

Cultural capital related to writing corresponds to all the written cultural resources of an individual. PIAAC measures this concept with the number of books at home at the age of 16.

Declining industry sectors are defined as areas where the number of jobs decreased by at least 10% in New Brunswick from 1994 to 2014, according to the Labour Force Survey. High-growth industry sectors are defined as areas where the number of jobs more than doubled in the province during the same period.


The article "The literacy skills of New Brunswick francophones: Demographic and socioeconomic issues," which is part of the Ethnicity, Language and Immigration Thematic Series (Catalogue number89-657-X), is now available from the Browse by key resource module of our website, under Publications.

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