Economic Insights
Changing Characteristics of Canadian Jobs, 1981 to 2018

by René Morissette
Social Analysis and Modelling Division, Statistics Canada

Release date: November 30, 2018

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This article in the Economic Insights series provides users with an integrated summary of long-term changes in several characteristics of the jobs held by Canadian employees. The article assesses the evolution of median real hourly wages in all jobs, full-time jobs and part-time jobs, as well as the evolution of layoff rates. It also examines changes in the percentage of jobs that are full-time; permanent; full-time and permanent; unionized; in public administration, educational services, health care and social assistance; covered by a registered pension plan (RPP); and covered by a defined-benefit RPP. Unless otherwise noted, statistics are shown for the main job held by employees aged 17 to 64 in May of each year and cover the period from 1981 to 2018. The main job is the job with the most weekly work hours. Full-time jobs involve 30 hours or more per week (see the Data appendix).

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Introduction

Over the past four decades, jobs held by Canadian employees have changed along several dimensions. Overall, compared with the early 1980s, proportionately fewer of these jobs are now full-time, permanent (i.e., without a specific end date), unionized, or covered by a registered pension plan (RPP) or a defined-benefit RPP.

From the early 1980s to the early 2000s, median real hourly wages displayed little growth, rising by about 2% overall and by roughly 6% in full-time jobs. Wage growth was faster in subsequent years—especially from 2001 to 2008—and overall median real hourly wages ended up being 13% higher in 2018 than they were in 1981. The corresponding number for full-time jobs was 16%.

While the downward trends in full-time employment, permanent employment, unionization and pension coverage are all observed for men, some are not observed for women. Since the early 1980s, the percentage of female employees with full-time jobs or unionized jobs has, in the aggregate, remained virtually unchanged. The percentage of female workers with an RPP has increased, while the percentage of female employees with jobs that are both full-time and permanent is similar to what it was in the late 1980s.Note 1

Job types

Aggregate paid employment has moved away from full-time jobs since the early 1980s. The percentage of employees aged 17 to 64 with a full-time job fell from 87% in 1981 to 84% in 2018 (Table 1). This downward trend was observed for men aged 17 to 64, and for those aged 25 to 54 (Table 2). In contrast, the proportion of female employees working full time showed little change among women aged 17 to 64, and rose among those aged 25 to 54.Note 2

The drop in the overall relative importance of full-time jobs occurred in conjunction with a decline in permanent employment. From 1989—the first year Statistics Canada collected data on permanent jobs—to 2018, the percentage of men and women with permanent jobs fell by roughly 6 percentage points among workers aged 17 to 64, and by about 5 percentage points among those aged 25 to 54. As a result, the percentage of employees with jobs that were both full-time and permanent fell by roughly 4 percentage points overall, and by 7 percentage points for men. For women, the drop in permanent employment was offset by the growing share of permanent jobs that were full-time. As a result, the percentage of female employees with permanent full-time jobs was similar in 1989 and 2018.

As overall unionization rates fell, the percentage of men aged 17 to 64 who belonged to unions dropped from 42% in 1981 to 26% in 2018. In contrast, there was little change to the unionization rate of women in that age group. Similar sex-specific patterns were observed among workers aged 25 to 54.

Employer-sponsored pension coverage

Changes in job types were associated with overall declines in employer-sponsored pension coverage. From 1981 to 2016—the most recent year for which data on RPP coverage are currently available—the percentage of employees with an RPP fell by 7 percentage points, from 45% to 38%.

Furthermore, the decline in RPP coverage was accompanied by a shift away from defined-benefit plans. In 2016, only one-quarter of employees were covered by such plans, down from 42% in 1981.

Trends in pension coverage differed for men and women. The growing presence of women in public administration, educational services, health care and social assistance mitigated the downward pressures on defined-benefit RPP coverage.Note 3 While men's coverage by such plans fell by more than 25 percentage points since the early 1980s, women's coverage dropped by only 4 percentage points. As a result, proportionately more women (29%) than men (22%) were covered by defined-benefit RPPs in 2016 (Chart 1). Considering all types of RPPs, pension coverage grew from 35% to 40% for women, but fell from 51% to 36% for men during the period from 1981 to 2016.

Chart 1 Percentage of male and female employees with defined-benefit registered pension plans, 1981 to 2016

Data table for Chart 1 
Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of datafor Chart 1. The information is grouped by Year (appearing as row headers), Male employeees and Female employees, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Year Male employeees Female employees
percent
1981 47.8 33.0
1983 48.3 33.6
1985 46.2 33.2
1987 44.4 32.0
1989 42.2 34.2
1991 43.8 36.9
1992 42.9 37.9
1993 41.8 38.2
1994 40.1 37.3
1995 38.7 36.6
1996 37.7 36.0
1997 36.2 35.0
1998 35.1 34.2
1999 34.8 34.2
2000 34.6 33.9
2001 33.3 33.4
2002 32.2 33.0
2003 31.2 32.7
2004 30.6 32.6
2005 30.1 32.4
2006 28.9 32.3
2007 28.0 31.1
2008 26.9 31.0
2009 27.4 31.9
2010 26.3 31.4
2011 25.6 31.1
2012 24.6 30.7
2013 24.1 30.1
2014 23.6 30.3
2015 22.2 28.9
2016 21.7 29.0

Wages

The 1980s and 1990s were periods of slow wage growth. From 1981 to 2001, median real hourly wages in full-time jobs held by workers aged 17 to 64 increased by about 6%. Partly as a result of the oil boom that took place from 2001 to 2008, subsequent wage growth was more robust. The end result was a 16% increase in median real hourly wages in full-time jobs from 1981 to 2018 (Chart 2). Considering all jobs, median real hourly wages grew 13% during that period. As women moved toward better-paid occupations and experienced larger gains in educational attainment and job tenure than men, they experienced faster wage growth over that period. Median real hourly wages of male and female full-time employees aged 17 to 64 grew 9% and 29%, respectively, from 1981 to 2018 (Table 1).Note 4

Median real hourly wages in part-time jobs evolved differently. Overall, they fell from the early 1980s to the late 1990s and started increasing after the mid-2000s. By 2018, median hourly real wages in part-time jobs held by employees aged 17 to 64 were very similar to their 1981 values (Chart 2).

Chart 2 Median real hourly wages of employees aged 17 to 64, 1981 to 2018

Data table for Chart 2 
Data Table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of data for Chart 2. The information is grouped by Year (appearing as row headers), Full-time jobs, Part-time jobs and All jobs, calculated using index (1981 equals 100) units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Year Full-time jobs Part-time jobs All jobs
index (1981=100)
1981 100.0 100.0 100.0
1982 101.0 101.1 101.0
1983 102.0 102.2 102.0
1984 103.0 103.4 103.0
1985 102.0 99.7 100.7
1986 101.0 96.0 98.4
1987 101.6 94.1 99.9
1988 104.2 101.1 102.0
1989 102.2 96.3 101.1
1990 102.6 97.0 100.6
1991 102.6 95.9 100.7
1992 102.6 94.9 100.9
1993 102.7 93.8 101.0
1994 102.7 92.8 101.2
1995 102.7 91.7 101.3
1996 102.7 90.7 101.4
1997 102.7 89.6 101.6
1998 104.0 88.7 101.9
1999 103.4 87.2 101.4
2000 103.8 89.6 101.5
2001 105.7 92.0 102.3
2002 105.2 90.0 102.4
2003 104.2 87.5 100.4
2004 105.1 86.0 101.7
2005 104.1 84.1 102.5
2006 105.9 90.7 103.5
2007 106.7 90.8 104.2
2008 108.5 94.7 106.3
2009 110.9 94.4 108.5
2010 111.5 92.7 110.8
2011 110.6 93.3 107.7
2012 111.9 95.3 107.1
2013 114.0 95.3 110.4
2014 113.7 93.5 108.6
2015 117.3 95.3 112.1
2016 115.8 98.1 110.6
2017 115.6 96.6 111.7
2018 116.0 101.3 112.7

Layoffs

Given the movement away from full-time employment and permanent employment documented above, one might expect the likelihood of workers losing their jobs to have increased over the past four decades. However, the data do not support this contention. Regardless of sex and of age group studied, layoff rates were no higher in recent years than they were during the early 1980s.Note 5 Therefore, there is no evidence that the likelihood of workers losing their jobs has trended upward over the past four decades.

Summary

The jobs held by Canadians today differ from those held by Canadians in the early 1980s in several respects. These changes in job characteristics reflect technological and institutional changes; movements in international trade; changes in the degree of competition that employers face in the product and labour market; and movements in the labour supply of specific groups such as youth, women and immigrants. While downward trends in full-time employment, permanent employment, unionization and pension coverage are all observed for men, some of these trends are not observed for women.

Data appendix

This article documents the evolution of several characteristics of the jobs held by Canadian employees from 1981 to 2018:

  1. the percentage of full-time jobs held by employees
  2. the percentage of permanent jobs held by employees
  3. the percentage of full-time permanent jobs held by employees
  4. the percentage of unionized jobs held by employees
  5. the percentage of jobs in public administration, educational services, health care and social assistance
  6. the percentage of employees with a registered pension plan (RPP)
  7. the percentage of employees with a defined-benefit RPP
  8. median real hourly wages in all jobs
  9. median real hourly wages in full-time jobs
  10. median real hourly wages in part-time jobs
  11. layoff rates.

The indicators shown in Tables 1 and 2 are obtained as follows.

Indicators 1 and 5 were obtained from the Labour Force Survey (LFS). Indicators 2 and 3 were obtained from the 1989 General Social Survey (GSS) and from the LFS (for the years 1997 onward). Indicators 4, 8, 9 and 10 were obtained from the 1981 Survey of Work History, the 1989 Labour Market Activity Survey and the LFS (for the years 1997 onward).

Indicators 6 and 7 were obtained from the Pension Plans in Canada (PPIC) database and refer to all employees, regardless of their age.Note 6

Indicator 11 was obtained by dividing the number of jobs that ended with a permanent layoff in a given year (obtained from the Longitudinal Worker File) by average annual paid employment (obtained from the LFS). A job ended with a permanent layoff when the laid-off worker did not return to the firm in the year of the layoff or the following year.

While indicators 6 and 7 refer to all employees, regardless of their age, other indicators refer to employees aged 17 to 64 or aged 25 to 54. For all indicators except 6, 7 and 11, the samples consist of the main jobs held by employees in May. Indicators 2 and 3 for 1989 are one exception, since they are drawn from the 1989 GSS. Indicator 4 refers to employees who are members of a union.

Median real hourly wages were computed using the annual all-items Consumer Price Index (CPI) defined at the Canada level. The CPI for 2018 was estimated by multiplying the 2017 value by the growth in the monthly CPI (not seasonally adjusted) observed from May 2017 to May 2018.

Full-time jobs involved 30 hours of work or more per week. Permanent jobs were jobs without a specific end date. The main job was the job with the most weekly work hours. Self-employed individuals were excluded from the analysis.

Table 1
Selected characteristics of jobs held by employees aged 17 to 64, 1981 to 2018
Table summary
This table displays the results of Selected characteristics of jobs held by employees aged 17 to 64, 1981 to 2018. Percentage of employees with:, Median real hourly wages in:, Layoff rates, Full-time jobs, Permanent jobs, Full-time permanent jobs, Unionized jobs, Jobs in public administration, educational services, health care and social assistance, registered pension plans, Defined-benefit registered pension plans, All jobs, Part-time jobs, Column 1, Column 2, Column 3, Column 4, Column 5, Column 6, Column 7, Column 8, Column 9, Column 10 and Column 11, calculated using percent and 2018 dollars units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  Percentage of employees with: Median real hourly wages in: Layoff rates
Full-time jobs Permanent jobs Full-time permanent jobs Unionized jobs Jobs in PEHS RPPs Defined-benefit RPPs All jobs Full-time jobs Part-time jobs
Column 1 Column 2 Column 3 Column 4 Column 5 Column 6 Column 7 Column 8 Column 9 Column 10 Column 11
percent 2018 dollars percent
Both sexes
1981 87.4 Note ..: not available for a specific reference period Note ..: not available for a specific reference period 37.6 23.6 44.6 41.8 20.65 21.54 14.81 10.1
1989 85.8 92.9 79.7 35.9 24.5 42.7 38.7 20.89 22.03 14.26 9.1
1997 82.5 89.0 75.5 31.6 25.6 41.5 35.6 20.98 22.13 13.27 9.4
2001 83.7 87.3 75.5 30.4 24.7 40.2 33.3 21.13 22.76 13.63 8.4
2007 83.9 86.7 74.9 30.3 25.9 38.4 29.5 21.52 22.99 13.45 6.5
2014 82.9 86.4 74.2 29.0 27.0 38.1 26.8 22.42 24.49 13.84 7.1
2016 83.4 86.5 74.6 28.7 27.6 37.5 25.2 22.84 24.96 14.53 Note ..: not available for a specific reference period
2018 84.3 86.4 75.2 28.3 27.5 Note ..: not available for a specific reference period Note ..: not available for a specific reference period 23.28 25.00 15.00 Note ..: not available for a specific reference period
Men
1981 94.9 Note ..: not available for a specific reference period Note ..: not available for a specific reference period 42.1 17.0 51.4 47.8 23.56 24.24 13.46 12.9
1989 94.0 93.6 87.7 39.2 16.6 46.9 42.2 24.18 24.95 12.06 12.0
1997 91.1 89.4 83.2 32.9 16.6 42.8 36.2 23.55 24.70 11.80 12.2
2001 91.3 88.1 82.5 31.1 14.7 41.0 33.3 23.85 24.64 11.93 11.0
2007 91.4 87.3 81.6 30.0 15.1 37.8 28.0 23.91 24.71 11.96 8.5
2014 89.8 86.8 80.0 27.6 15.0 36.7 23.6 24.57 26.21 12.78 9.3
2016 89.7 87.0 80.1 26.7 15.3 35.6 21.7 24.96 26.23 12.98 Note ..: not available for a specific reference period
2018 90.5 86.9 80.8 26.0 14.9 Note ..: not available for a specific reference period Note ..: not available for a specific reference period 25.00 26.50 14.00 Note ..: not available for a specific reference period
Women
1981 77.2 Note ..: not available for a specific reference period Note ..: not available for a specific reference period 31.4 32.6 34.8 33.0 17.50 17.99 15.08 6.1
1989 76.2 92.2 70.6 32.1 33.9 37.3 34.2 17.82 18.64 14.70 5.6
1997 73.1 88.6 67.0 30.1 35.5 39.9 35.0 18.43 20.07 14.23 6.5
2001 75.6 86.4 68.1 29.7 35.4 39.4 33.4 19.08 20.31 14.24 5.7
2007 76.2 86.0 68.1 30.6 36.8 39.0 31.1 19.70 21.02 14.35 4.4
2014 75.9 86.0 68.4 30.5 39.2 39.7 30.3 21.29 22.89 14.91 4.9
2016 77.0 86.0 69.0 30.6 39.9 39.5 29.0 21.29 22.97 15.57 Note ..: not available for a specific reference period
2018 78.1 85.8 69.5 30.7 40.2 Note ..: not available for a specific reference period Note ..: not available for a specific reference period 21.63 23.17 15.38 Note ..: not available for a specific reference period
Table 2
Selected characteristics of jobs held by employees aged 25 to 54, 1981 to 2018
Table summary
This table displays the results of Selected characteristics of jobs held by employees aged 25 to 54, 1981 to 2018. Percentage of employees with:, Median real hourly wages in:, Layoff rates, Full-time jobs, Permanent jobs, Full-time permanent jobs, Unionized jobs, Jobs in public administration, educational services, health care and social assistance, All jobs, Part-time jobs, Column 1, Column 2, Column 3, Column 4, Column 5, Column 6, Column 7, Column 8 and Column 9, calculated using percent and 2018 dollars units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  Percentage of employees with: Median real hourly wages in: Layoff rates
Full-time jobs Permanent jobs Full-time permanent jobs Unionized jobs Jobs in PEHS All jobs Full-time jobs Part-time jobs
Column 1 Column 2 Column 3 Column 4 Column 5 Column 6 Column 7 Column 8 Column 9
percent 2018 dollars percent
Both sexes
1981 89.8 Note ..: not available for a specific reference period Note ..: not available for a specific reference period 40.9 26.4 22.89 23.24 17.48 8.7
1989 89.1 94.7 85.5 39.8 27.6 22.88 23.47 17.82 8.3
1997 87.1 91.4 81.1 35.0 28.3 22.86 23.70 17.02 8.7
2001 88.3 90.7 81.4 33.5 27.0 23.18 24.19 17.72 7.7
2007 89.1 90.0 81.5 33.1 28.1 23.91 24.14 17.93 6.0
2014 89.1 89.7 81.5 31.0 28.9 25.02 25.74 18.10 6.5
2016 89.3 89.8 81.6 31.0 29.7 25.95 26.62 18.69 Note ..: not available for a specific reference period
2018 89.9 89.6 81.9 30.5 29.8 25.64 26.50 18.75 Note ..: not available for a specific reference period
Men
1981 98.2 Note ..: not available for a specific reference period Note ..: not available for a specific reference period 45.2 19.1 25.83 25.83 Note F: too unreliable to be published 11.2
1989 97.9 95.8 94.1 43.0 18.7 26.48 26.73 Note F: too unreliable to be published 11.1
1997 95.7 92.0 89.3 36.4 18.2 25.66 25.95 Note F: too unreliable to be published 11.4
2001 96.0 91.6 88.7 34.3 16.2 26.21 26.21 Note F: too unreliable to be published 10.1
2007 96.4 90.8 88.3 32.7 16.3 26.28 26.30 Note F: too unreliable to be published 8.0
2014 95.4 90.3 87.2 28.9 15.6 26.72 27.64 Note F: too unreliable to be published 8.5
2016 95.4 90.6 87.4 28.6 16.3 27.95 28.26 Note F: too unreliable to be published Note ..: not available for a specific reference period
2018 95.7 90.5 87.5 27.3 16.1 28.00 28.41 Note F: too unreliable to be published Note ..: not available for a specific reference period
Women
1981 77.6 Note ..: not available for a specific reference period Note ..: not available for a specific reference period 34.8 36.8 18.85 19.36 16.97 5.0
1989 78.7 93.4 75.5 36.2 38.0 19.44 19.87 17.82 5.0
1997 77.8 90.8 72.3 33.6 39.0 20.48 21.26 17.21 5.8
2001 80.2 89.7 73.9 32.6 38.4 20.44 21.55 17.72 5.3
2007 81.8 89.3 74.7 33.5 39.9 21.52 22.33 17.93 4.1
2014 82.6 89.0 75.8 33.1 42.4 23.03 24.06 18.63 4.4
2016 83.1 88.9 75.8 33.4 43.2 23.48 24.76 18.69 Note ..: not available for a specific reference period
2018 84.0 88.8 76.2 33.7 43.7 24.00 24.94 19.10 Note ..: not available for a specific reference period

References

Morissette, R. 2016. Perspectives on the Youth Labour Market in Canada. A presentation series from Statistics Canada about the economy, environment and society. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11-631-X. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

Morissette, R., G. Picot and Y. Lu. 2013. The Evolution of Canadian Wages Over the Last Three Decades. Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series no. 347. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11F0019M. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

Morissette, R., H. Qiu, and P.C.W. Chan. 2013. "The risk and cost of job loss in Canada, 1978–2008." Canadian Journal of Economics 46 (4): 1480–1509.

Morissette, R., G. Schellenberg, and F. Hou. 2015. Full-time Employment, 1976 to 2014. Economic Insights, no. 49. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11-626-X. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.


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