Study: The achievements, experiences and labour market outcomes of First Nations, Métis and Inuit women with bachelor's degrees or higher
Indigenous women have made significant gains in every level of the educational system. Postsecondary credentials, especially those at the highest levels, lead to higher employment rates and better labour market outcomes for First Nations, Métis and Inuit women.
This new study in Insights on Canadian Society examines and provides new information about the educational attainment and labour market outcomes of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit women with a bachelor's degree or higher, primarily between the ages of 25 to 64, using data from the 2006 and 2016 Censuses of Population, the 2017 Aboriginal Peoples Survey and the 2018 National Graduates Survey.
More than half of Indigenous women had a postsecondary qualification in 2016
In 2016, more than half (52%) of Indigenous women aged 25 to 64 had a postsecondary qualification, including 14% of Indigenous women with a bachelor's degree or higher. By comparison, 46% of Indigenous men also obtained postsecondary qualifications, and 8% graduated with a bachelor's degree or more.
There were also some differences by Indigenous identity. For example, among Métis women, 59% had a postsecondary qualification, compared with almost half (49%) of First Nations women and 38% of Inuit women. The percentage with bachelor's degrees or other advanced degrees was highest for Métis women (16%), followed by First Nations women (12%) and Inuit women (7%).
While the postsecondary educational attainment of non-Indigenous women and men remained higher, the gap has decreased slightly in the past decade.
The educational attainment of Indigenous women increased over time
By 2016, 14% of Indigenous women aged 25 to 64 had a bachelor's degree or higher, up from 9% a decade earlier in 2006. The proportion of Indigenous men with at least a bachelor's degree also grew but to a lesser extent (6% in 2006 compared with 8% in 2016). Furthermore, gains in advanced degrees, particularly those at the master's level, were greater for Indigenous women compared with Indigenous men. These trends contributed to an increased gender gap in educational attainment among Indigenous people.
For example, in 2016, Inuit women (7%) were more than twice as likely as Inuit men (3%) to have a bachelor's degree or higher. Similarly, 12% of First Nations women and 16% of Métis women aged 25 to 64 obtained this level of postsecondary qualification, while the corresponding proportions for their male counterparts were 7% and 10%, respectively.
Government student loans are the most common source of funding for postsecondary education
Even though postsecondary education is associated with significantly higher lifetime earnings, costs can be a barrier to access it. In addition to tuition, students can also incur expenses related to relocation, housing, transportation, food and child care.
Among Indigenous women aged 25 to 64 with a bachelor's degree or higher, the most common funding source reported was government student loans (43%). Comparisons of funding sources by education level suggest that those with lower levels of postsecondary education are less likely to report receiving funding from almost all sources than respondents with a bachelor's degree or higher.
While sources of funding were generally similar for off-reserve First Nations, Métis and Inuit women, there was one notable exception: 40% of off-reserve First Nations women reported having received Band funding and 43% of Inuit women reported having received funding from an Inuit Land Claim organization.
Higher education is associated with higher rates of employment for Indigenous women
Among graduates with postsecondary education, higher education is typically associated with higher rates of employment. For example, among Indigenous women who graduated in 2015 with a bachelor's degree or higher, the majority (92%) were employed in 2018, significantly higher than the corresponding proportion for Indigenous women with postsecondary qualifications below the bachelor's level (78%). In comparison, 81% of Indigenous male postsecondary graduates overall were employed in 2018, although more advanced degrees were not associated with higher rates of employment.
Indigenous women are increasingly completing postsecondary qualifications and are enjoying higher rates of employment, but challenges remain. Further analyses can inform programs and policies to better meet the needs of Indigenous people and potentially help Indigenous students make decisions about their education and career paths.
Future research could examine occupations and earnings by more detailed level of qualification, including those below the bachelor's level, to produce a more complete picture of the benefits of postsecondary education and employment among Indigenous women. In light of labour force needs for more people with a scientific background, the underrepresentation of Indigenous women in STEM fields of study also deserves additional research in order to identify persistent barriers and offer solutions to help improve access to some of the highest paying and most in-demand occupations.
Fostering school environments that are inclusive and supportive of the sometimes unique challenges to Indigenous students' learning and success could also be examined. Indigenous students tend to graduate at older ages and are more likely to have parenting responsibilities in addition to their studies. Access to culturally appropriate, affordable child care as well as other forms of supports for older students are another area of study that could be explored in an effort to support Indigenous women to succeed in postsecondary education.
Analysis of the 2021 Census of Population is also underway and will allow for additional monitoring of the educational and employment experiences of Indigenous peoples in Canada. It should be noted that two new questions were added to the 2021 Census, which allowed Métis and Inuit to identify themselves further, opening up possibilities for more detailed analyses of these populations in the future. For example, it will be possible to examine characteristics by membership in a Métis organization or settlement, and by enrolment under an Inuit land claims agreement.
More generally, the 2021 Census can be used to examine how the pandemic has been profoundly altering population growth, sources of income, commuting patterns and many other aspects of Canadians' lives.
Note to readers
This release summarizes findings of the article released today, titled "The achievements, experiences and labour market outcomes of First Nations, Métis and Inuit women with bachelor's degrees or higher." The article, funded by Women and Gender Equality Canada, is based on data from the 2006 and 2016 Censuses of Population, the 2017 Aboriginal Peoples Survey and the 2018 National Graduates Survey.
The article "The achievements, experiences and labour market outcomes of First Nations, Métis and Inuit women with bachelor's degrees or higher" is now available in Insights on Canadian Society (75-006-X).
For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; STATCAN.infostats-infostats.STATCAN@canada.ca) or Media Relations (613-951-4636; STATCAN.mediahotline-ligneinfomedias.STATCAN@canada.ca).