Insights on Canadian Society
The achievements, experiences and labour market outcomes of First Nations, Métis and Inuit women with bachelor’s degrees or higher

by Paula Arriagada

Release date: October 20, 2021

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This study was funded by Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE).

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Overview of the study

Postsecondary education is associated with better labour market outcomes, including higher employment rates and earnings. The educational attainment among Canadians has increased significantly in the last two decades, especially among women. 

Notably, Indigenous women have also made significant gains in every level of the educational system. However, the disparities in educational attainment between Indigenous people and the non-Indigenous population persist.

This study examines 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. Comparisons are made across Indigenous identity groups, and between the sexes, as well as to the non-Indigenous population.

  • In 2016, half (52%) of Indigenous women aged 25 to 64 had a postsecondary qualification, including the 14% of Indigenous women with a bachelor’s degree or higher. By contrast, 46% of Indigenous men obtained postsecondary qualifications including 8% who graduated with a bachelor’s degree or higher. However, the educational attainment at the postsecondary level of non-Indigenous women (67% any postsecondary and 32% bachelor’s degree or more) and men (64% and 27%, respectively) remained higher.
  • The educational attainment of Indigenous women has increased over time. By 2016, 14% of Indigenous women aged 25 to 64 had attained a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is 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 and 8% in 2016). Furthermore, gains in advanced degrees, particularly those at the master’s level, were greater for Indigenous women compared to Indigenous men.
  • Among Indigenous women aged 25 to 64 with a bachelor’s degree or higher, the most common funding source was government student loans (43%). When funding sources were compared across different levels of education, those with lower levels of postsecondary education tended to report having obtained funding from fewer sources than graduates with more advanced degrees.
  • Results are consistent with existing research showing that higher education is associated with higher rates of employment, especially for Indigenous women. The majority (92%) of Indigenous women with a bachelor’s degree or higher were employed in 2018, significantly higher than the corresponding proportion for Indigenous women with postsecondary qualifications below the bachelor’s level (78%). As for Indigenous male postsecondary graduates, rates of employment did not differ significantly by level of study.
  • About two-thirds (66%) of Indigenous women reported their job or business was closely related to their 2015 program, regardless of whether their post-secondary qualification was at, above or below bachelor's level. For men (Indigenous or not) as well as for non-Indigenous women, degree level was positively associated with finding employment more closely related to their field of study.
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Introduction

Educational attainment among Canadians has increased significantly in the last two decades, especially among women. In the case of the IndigenousNote population, First NationsNote , Métis and Inuit women have made significant gains in every level of the educational system. For example, the 2016 Census of Population found that 14% of Indigenous women had a bachelor’s degree or higher compared with 8% of Indigenous men. This is an increase from 2006, when 9% of Indigenous women had  attained a bachelor’s degree or higher compared with 6% of Indigenous men.

Despite the increase in the number of Indigenous women enrolled in and completing postsecondary programs, the disparities in educational attainment between Indigenous people and the non-Indigenous population persist. Moreover, Indigenous people are particularly underrepresented at the highest levels of education. According to the 2016 Census, the proportion of non-Indigenous women with a bachelor’s degree or higher was more than double that of Indigenous women (32% compared to 14%). The corresponding estimates for non-Indigenous and Indigenous men are 27% and 8%, respectively.

Indigenous people face many barriers to postsecondary education such as having to relocate, lack of guidance and culturally appropriate curricula, inadequate funding, as well as the impact of intergenerational trauma.Note Understanding some of the factors that affect the educational participation and success of Indigenous people is particularly relevant in the context of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action which emphasize the importance of education in the Reconciliation process.Note

Furthermore, the fact that the number and proportion of Indigenous women with degrees at the bachelor’s level or above continue to be relatively small compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts has important consequences. First, research has repeatedly shown that postsecondary credentials, in particular those from the highest levels of education lead to higher employment rates and better labour market outcomes, including earnings.Note Second, Indigenous women represent a larger share of the labour market than previously observed, so it is important to better understand the relationship between their educational attainment and their labour market outcomes. This new information can help inform policymakers who are working to encourage greater participation and success in postsecondary education among Indigenous women.  

This paper uses the most recent data available from three sources: the 2016 and 2006 Censuses of Population, the 2017 Aboriginal Peoples Survey, and the 2018 National Graduates Survey (see the “Data sources, methods and definitions” section) to examine the achievements and experiences of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit women with the highest levels of education: bachelor’s degrees; university certificates, diplomas or degrees above the bachelor level; degrees in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine or optometry; master’s degrees; and earned doctorates.

The results are presented for the Indigenous population aged 25 to 64Note and by Indigenous identity, whenever possible.Note In addition, comparisons are made with First Nations, Métis and Inuit men with a corresponding level of education and across different degree types when applicable. Finally, in some cases, comparisons are also made to the non-Indigenous population.

As Indigenous women and men continue to achieve higher levels of education, it is important to better understand the specific challenges they face in completing postsecondary education as well as their labour market outcomes. Policy makers can use this type of analysis to create programs and policies to better meet the needs of Indigenous people and potentially help Indigenous students make decisions about their education and career paths.

Half of Indigenous women had a postsecondary qualification in 2016

In 2016, half (52%) of Indigenous women aged 25 to 64 had a postsecondary qualification (Table 1). Specifically, 8% had an apprenticeship or trades certificate, 28% had a college or CEGEP diploma,Note 3% had a university certificate or diploma below the bachelor level, and 14% had a bachelor’s degree or higher. Among non-Indigenous women, the proportions for apprenticeships or trades certificates (7%) as well as certificates below the bachelor level (4%) were similar to those of Indigenous women. Non-Indigenous women were slightly less likely than Indigenous women to have had a college or CEGEP diploma (25%) but more likely to have had a bachelor’s degree or higher (32%).

There were also some differences by Indigenous identity. For example, among Métis women aged 25 to 64, 59% had a postsecondary qualification, compared with almost half (49%) for First Nations women and 38% for Inuit women. The percentage with bachelor’s degrees or other advanced degrees was highest for Métis women at 16%, followed by First Nations women at 12% and Inuit women at 7%.

Many factors contribute to differences in the educational attainment of First Nations people, Métis and Inuit. One is the geographic distribution of these three Indigenous identity groups, which can affect access to education. This is particularly pertinent to First Nations women living on reserve as well as Inuit women living in Inuit Nunangat, where access to education is much more limited and many have to leave their communities to attend educational institutions.


Table 1
Highest level of education, population aged 25 to 64, by Indigenous identity and sex, Canada, 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Highest level of education. The information is grouped by Highest level of education (appearing as row headers), Indigenous identity and sex, Total Indigenous identity population, First Nations single identity, Métis single identity, Inuit single identity, Non-Indigenous population, Women and Men, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Highest level of education Indigenous identity and sex
Total Indigenous identity population First Nations single identity Métis single identity Inuit single identity Non-Indigenous population
Women Men Women Men Women Men Women Men Women Men
percent
No certificate, diploma or degree 22.7 29.0 26.7 33.8 15.2 21.1 42.9 45.0 9.4 12.3
Secondary (high) school diploma or equivalency degree 25.1 25.1 24.6 24.4 26.4 26.7 18.0 18.0 23.2 24.2
Postsecondary qualification (including certificate, diploma or degree) 52.2 45.9 48.8 41.8 58.5 52.2 38.2 37.0 67.4 63.5
Apprenticeship or trades certificate or diploma 7.5 18.5 6.9 17.3 8.4 20.1 6.8 18.2 6.8 14.7
College, CEGEP or other non-university certificate or diploma 27.8 17.6 26.0 16.1 30.9 19.8 22.3 14.7 25.3 19.3
University certificate or diploma below bachelor level 3.4 1.9 3.5 1.9 3.3 1.9 2.1 0.7 3.5 2.6
University, certificate, diploma or degree at bachelor level or above 13.6 7.9 12.2 6.5 15.9 10.4 7.0 3.4 31.7 26.9

Women, in general, have sustained a long-term trend toward higher education with increases in the completion of postsecondary qualifications.Note   The same trends exist among Indigenous people. In 2016, Indigenous women aged 25 to 64 were more likely than Indigenous men to have postsecondary qualifications (52% compared to 46%). Specifically, Indigenous women were more likely to have a postsecondary qualification than Indigenous men across all levels of education except for apprenticeship or trades certificates and diplomas. In the case of degrees at the bachelor’s level or higher, 14% of Indigenous women aged 25 to 64 had such a degree compared to 8% of Indigenous men. These results were similar for First Nations, Métis and Inuit women.

The proportion of Indigenous women with a bachelor’s degree or higher has increased from 2006 to 2016

The educational attainment of Indigenous women has also been increasing 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 a bachelor’s degree or higher also grew over this period but to a lesser extent (6% in 2006 and 8% in 2016) (Chart 1). The general results were similar across the three Indigenous identity groups, with more First Nations, Métis and Inuit women attaining bachelor's degrees or higher compared to men.

Chart 1

Data table for Chart 1 
Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1. The information is grouped by Indigenous identity and year (appearing as row headers), Women and Men, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Indigenous identity and year Women Men
percent
Total Indigenous identity population
2006 9.3 5.9
2016 13.6 7.9
First Nations single identity
2006 8.9 5.1
2016 12.2 6.5
Métis single identity
2006 10.1 7.6
2016 15.9 10.4
Inuit single identity
2006 4.9 2.7
2016 7.0 3.4
Non-Indigenous population
2006 23.8 23.1
2016 31.7 26.9

Changes in educational attainment by Indigenous groups over time reflect substantial increases in both school enrolment and program completion. However, it is possible that some of the gains are partly due to response mobility, which is a phenomenon whereby people provide different responses to census questions over time about their Indigenous identity.Note Research has found that response mobility is higher among Métis and First Nations people without registered Indian status and very low among Inuit and First Nations with registered Indian status. Changes in response from some highly educated respondents who did not previously identify in the Census as Indigenous likely accounts for some (but not all) of the gains in educational attainment.Note

There were also increases in selected postsecondary qualifications above the bachelor level, including degrees in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine or optometry, master’s and earned doctorates for both Indigenous women and men between 2006 and 2016 (Table 2). The results also indicate that the gains in advanced degrees, particularly those at the master's level, were greater for Indigenous women compared to Indigenous men.


Table 2
Selected highest level of education, population aged 25 to 64, by Indigenous identity, sex and year, Canada 2006 and 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Selected highest level of education. The information is grouped by Highest level of education (appearing as row headers), Indigenous identity, year and sex, Indigenous, Non-Indigenous, 2006, 2016, Women and Men, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Highest level of education Indigenous identity, year and sex
Indigenous Non-Indigenous
2006 2016 2006 2016
Women Men Women Men Women Men Women Men
percent
No certificate, diploma or degree 31.5 37.0 22.7 29.0 13.9 15.6 9.4 12.3
Secondary (high) school diploma or equivalency certificate 22.4 20.3 25.1 25.1 25.1 22.9 23.2 24.2
Certificates or diplomas: apprenticeship / trades or other non-university or university below bachelor level, College, or CEGEP 36.8 36.7 38.7 37.9 37.2 38.4 35.7 36.7
Bachelor's degree 6.8 4.0 10.1 5.7 15.7 14.1 21.5 17.3
University certificate or diploma above bachelor level 1.1 0.7 1.0 0.5 2.7 2.2 2.2 1.7
Medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine or optometry degrees 0.1 0.1 0.2 0.2 0.6 0.8 0.8 0.8
Master's degree 1.1 1.0 2.1 1.3 4.3 4.9 6.3 5.9
Earned doctorate 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.6 1.1 0.8 1.1

Education is a common field of study among Indigenous women with a bachelor’s degree or higher

In 2016, the most common fields of study for Indigenous women aged 25 to 64 with a bachelor’s degree or higher were education (24%), followed by social and behavioural sciences and law (23%) and business, management and public administration (19%) (Table 3). These three fields accounted for two-thirds of degree holders at the bachelor’s level or higher among Indigenous women. The results are also similar when broken down by Indigenous identity groups and largely consistent regardless of sex. Moreover, non-Indigenous women and men had largely comparable rankings for major fields of study with the exception of education.   


Table 3
Top 10 major fields of study among population aged 25 to 64 with a bachelor's degree or higher, by Indigenous identity and sex, Canada, 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Top 10 major fields of study among population aged 25 to 64 with a bachelor's degree or higher. The information is grouped by Field of study (appearing as row headers), Indigenous identity and sex, Total Indigenous identity population, First Nations single identity, Métis single identity, Inuit single identity, Non-Indigenous population, Women and Men, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Field of study Indigenous identity and sex
Total Indigenous identity population First Nations single identity Métis single identity Inuit single identity Non-Indigenous population
Women Men Women Men Women Men Women Men Women Men
percent
Education 24.3 14.1 25.2 14.7 23.0 13.9 31.9 9.7 15.2 5.6
Social and behavioural sciences and law 22.6 20.2 23.3 21.9 21.7 18.3 23.2 25.8 19.6 15.1
Business, management and public administration 18.6 20.3 20.5 20.6 16.8 20.2 15.9 16.1 19.6 23.5
Health and related fields 14.5 7.8 12.5 6.5 16.9 9.2 9.7 5.4 15.8 8.3
Humanities 8.2 10.1 8.2 10.5 8.2 9.6 8.6 8.6 9.8 7.1
Physical and life sciences and technologies 4.1 6.6 3.5 5.8 4.8 7.4 6.3 10.8 6.5 7.6
Visual and performing arts and communications technologies 3.1 3.7 2.6 4.0 3.8 3.5 1.4 2.2 3.7 2.7
Architecture, engineering and related technologies 1.4 9.5 1.1 8.9 1.8 9.9 1.0 11.8 4.7 19.8
Agriculture, natural resources and conservation 1.4 3.0 1.4 2.9 1.4 3.1 0.0 5.4 1.5 2.2
Mathematics, computer and information sciences 1.1 3.6 1.1 3.1 1.1 4.0 1.4 3.2 3.3 7.6

To provide a more complete picture of the fields of study for Indigenous women at the highest levels of education, it is also important to examine degree acquisition in STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and mathematics and computer science). Existing research has found that STEM skills are crucial to innovation and productivityNote and lead to high-quality, high-paying jobs, especially for engineering and computer science graduates.Note However, despite increases in educational attainment, women and Indigenous people remained underrepresented in STEM programs in 2016.Note

Overall, Indigenous people aged 25 to 64 were less likely than their non-Indigenous counterparts to be STEM degree holders. At 8%, STEM degrees were half as common among Indigenous women than among non-Indigenous women (16%).  STEM degrees among Indigenous men were also less common than they were for non-Indigenous men (22% compared to 36%).

Chart 2

Data table for Chart 2 
Data table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 2. The information is grouped by Sex and Indigenous identity (appearing as row headers), Science and science technology, Engineering and engineering technology and Mathematics and computer and information science, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Sex and Indigenous identity Science and science technology Engineering and engineering technology Mathematics and computer and information science
percent
Women
Indigenous 74.7 13.4 11.9
Non-Indigenous 55.2 24.4 20.4
Men
Indigenous 42.7 40.0 17.2
Non-Indigenous 27.4 50.8 21.8

The STEM programs can be further divided into three sub-fields: science and science technology; engineering; and mathematics and computer science. Generally, occupations related to science and science technology are lower-paying than those in other areas of STEM.Note

Three-quarters (75%) of Indigenous women who attained a STEM bachelor’s degree or higher did so in a science or science technology field and the remainder were split between engineering (13%) and mathematics and computer science fields (12%) (Chart 2). Similar patterns are seen for First Nations, Métis and Inuit women (data not shown). In comparison, non-Indigenous women who are STEM degree holders at the bachelor’s level or higher are less likely than Indigenous women to be represented in science and science technology fields (55%) and more likely to study engineering (24%) and mathematics and computer science (20%).

Among STEM degree holders at the bachelor’s level or higher, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous men are generally more likely than Indigenous women to have studied engineering, which is often associated with higher-paying occupations.

Postsecondary education experiences among Indigenous women

Existing research has shown that Indigenous students face many barriers to accessing and completing postsecondary education, including the lack of academic preparation and guidance, inadequate financial resources, lack of relevant or Indigenous-specific curricula, and the loss of community, family and cultural support systems often due to the need to relocate to places far from their homes.Note Furthermore, intergenerational trauma continues to greatly affect the educational participation and success of Indigenous people at the secondary and postsecondary levels.Note

To help Indigenous students transition to higher levels of schooling and improve their educational outcomes, many Canadian universities are providing culturally sensitive academic, financial and social services.Note Furthermore, a number of Indigenous educational institutions across Canada offer programs grounded in Indigenous languages, pedagogies, and cultures, which also helps Indigenous students with the transition to and completion of postsecondary education.Note

Government student loans are the most common source of funding for postsecondary education

Postsecondary education is expensive.Note On average, Canadian undergraduates pay about $6,500 each year for tuition alone and most programs require several years of study.Note Students can also incur expenses associated with relocation costs, housing, transportation, food and child care responsibilities.Note In 2017, the Aboriginal Peoples Survey (APS) included questions about funding sources for postsecondary education. Nine different sources were available and more than one source could be reported.

Among Indigenous women aged 25 to 64 living off reserve with a bachelor’s degree or higher, more than 4 in 10 (43%) reported having received a government student loan as a source of postsecondary funding (Table 4). Other sources of funding included working while going to school (34%), one’s own savings (32%), grants, bursaries or scholarships (32%), family (30%), and Band or Inuit Land Claim (23%). By contrast, bank loans or lines of credit and employment insurance were rarely used.Note  

Sources of postsecondary funding were generally similar for First Nations women and men living off reserve, Métis and Inuit with one notable difference; among women aged 25 to 64 with a bachelor’s degree or higher, 40% of off-reserve First Nations women reported having received Band funding while 43% of Inuit women reported having received funding from an Inuit Land Claim organization.


Table 4
Sources of postsecondary funding, Indigenous population living off reserve aged 25 to 64, by selected highest level of education and sex, Canada, 2017
Table summary
This table displays the results of Sources of postsecondary funding. The information is grouped by Funding sources (appearing as row headers), Highest level of education and sex, Bachelor's degree or higher, Some postsecondary and postsecondary below bachelor level, Women and Men (ref.), calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Funding sources Highest level of education and sex
Bachelor's degree or higher Some postsecondary and postsecondary below bachelor level
Women Men (ref.) Women Men (ref.)
percent
Government loan 43.4 41.4 30.9Note * Table 4 Note  19.6Table 4 Note 
Grants, bursaries or scholarships 31.8Note * 25.3 13.8Note * Table 4 Note  10.9Table 4 Note 
Band or Inuit Land Claim 23.4Note * 17.4 21.4Note * 18.1
Employment Insurance 1.5Note E: Use with caution Note F: too unreliable to be published 7.9Note * Table 4 Note  11.5
Own savings 32.3Note * 41.3 22.8Note * Table 4 Note  30.0Table 4 Note 
Worked while going to school 33.8 39.2 16.1Note * Table 4 Note  21.9Table 4 Note 
Family 29.7Note * 23.2 13.7Table 4 Note  11.9Table 4 Note 
Bank loan/line of credit 7.6 6.6Note E: Use with caution 2.7Note * Table 4 Note  1.7Note E: Use with caution Table 4 Note 
Other 5.2Note E: Use with caution 5.4Note E: Use with caution 11.5Note * Table 4 Note  14.7Table 4 Note 

The results also show some important differences between Indigenous women and men living off reserve with degrees at the bachelor’s level or above. For example, Indigenous women are more likely than Indigenous men to report having received grants, bursaries or scholarships (32% versus 25%). The same is true for Band or Inuit Land claims as a funding source (23% versus 17%), and financial support from family (30% versus 23%). In contrast, Indigenous men were more likely to report having used their own savings to pay for their postsecondary studies (41% versus 32%).

Since postsecondary certificates or diplomas below the bachelor level tend to be shorter and less expensive than undergraduate and graduate university degrees, individuals who obtained such postsecondary certificates or diplomas were less likely to have received almost all types of funding compared to those with a bachelor’s degree or higher (employment insurance is an exception). For example, 31% of Indigenous women living off reserve aged 25 to 64 with some postsecondary or postsecondary below the bachelor level reported having received a government loan, compared to 43% of women with a bachelor’s degree and above.  The corresponding figures for Indigenous men were 20% for those who obtained postsecondary qualifications below the bachelor level and 41% for those who graduated with a bachelor's degree or higher.

Two-thirds of Indigenous women living off reserve felt the guidance received for postsecondary education was adequate or very adequate

According to data from the 2017 APS, two-thirds (67%) of Indigenous women aged 25 to 64 living off reserve who had a bachelor’s degree or higher felt the guidance they received to help choose schooling above the high school level was adequate or very adequate. In addition, 7% reported the guidance was neither adequate nor inadequate, and a quarter (26%) felt it was inadequate or very inadequate.

There are no statistically significant differences among Indigenous women and men in terms of opinions about the adequacy of educational guidance received. However, off-reserve First Nations women with a bachelor’s degree or higher were less likely to report that their guidance was adequate or very adequate (62%), compared with 71% among both Métis and Inuit women.

APS respondents were also asked, if they were to do their postsecondary education again, whether they would choose the same field of study. Among Indigenous women living off reserve with a bachelor’s degree or higher who felt their guidance was adequate or very adequate, the majority (75%) would choose the same field of study. In contrast, among Indigenous women living off reserve aged 25 to 64 with a bachelor’s degree or higher who felt their guidance was inadequate, half (51%) reported they would choose the same field of study. These conclusions were also similar among the three Indigenous groups.

Close to a quarter of Indigenous women living off reserve with a bachelor’s degree or higher attended activities to help Indigenous students succeed

In 2017, APS respondents were asked if they took part in any workshops, programs or activities specifically designed to help Indigenous students adjust or succeed in postsecondary education. Among Indigenous women and men living off reserve and aged 25 to 64 with a bachelor’s degree or higher, about one-fifth reported having attended such activities (23% compared to 20%, respectively) (Table 5).

Results by Indigenous group indicate some differences. Specifically, about one-quarter (24%) of off-reserve First Nations women aged 25 to 64 with a bachelor’s degree or higher had participated in such activities, compared to 21% for Métis women and 36% for Inuit women.

There are no statistically significant differences among Indigenous women and Indigenous men. In addition, the proportion reporting they participated in these activities is significantly higher among off-reserve First Nations, Métis and Inuit women aged 25 to 64 with a bachelor’s degree or higher than those with lower levels of postsecondary education. The same is true among Indigenous men with the exception of Inuit men.  


Table 5
Attended activities to help Indigenous students succeed, Indigenous people living off reserve aged 25 to 64, by Indigenous identity, selected highest level of education and sex, Canada, 2017
Table summary
This table displays the results of Attended activities to help Indigenous students succeed. The information is grouped by Highest level of education (appearing as row headers), Indigenous identity and sex, Total Indigenous , Off-reserve First Nations, Métis, Inuit, Women and Men, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Highest level of education Indigenous identity and sex
Total Indigenous Off-reserve First Nations Métis Inuit
Women Men Women Men Women Men Women Men
percent
Bachelor's degree or higher 23.0Note * 20.4Note * 24.2Note * 26.8Note * 21.4Note * 15.2Note * 35.7Note E: Use with cautionNote * 24.2Note E: Use with caution
Some postsecondary and postsecondary below bachelor level (ref.) 12.3 9.5 14.6 12.4 9.6 6.7 15.6 13.6

Labour market outcomes of Indigenous women with bachelor’s degrees or higher

Postsecondary education is associated with better labour market outcomes, including higher employment rates, as well as higher earnings compared to the outcomes experienced by those with lower levels of education.Note The benefit of higher levels of education may even be greater for the Indigenous population than for the non-Indigenous population.Note

Indigenous women tend to graduate at older ages than non-Indigenous women

Youth can take various paths from education to the labour market.Note In the case of Indigenous people, education is not always a linear path, with many leaving school early due to work and family responsibilities but also returning to school at later ages.Note

According to data from the 2018 National Graduates Survey (NGS) (Class of 2015), the median age for IndigenousNote women and men who graduated with a bachelor’s degree was 25, and for those who graduated with a master’s or doctoral degree it was 34. The median graduation age was lower for the non-Indigenous population: 24 for a bachelor’s degree and 31 for a master’s or earned doctorate (for both women and men).

One factor that may be associated with Indigenous people tending to graduate at older ages is timely completion. NGS respondents were asked if they completed their 2015 degree in the usual length of time.Note Among Indigenous women with a university degree about three-quarters of bachelor’s (73%) and master’s or doctoral degree (74%) recipients finished on time. In comparison, 72% of Indigenous men who obtained a bachelor’s and 80% of those with a master’s or earned doctorate completed their degree in the usual length of time.

Despite a majority of Indigenous men and women completing their 2015 degree in the usual length of time, an even greater proportion of non-Indigenous women and men did so. Specifically, 88% of non-Indigenous women and 84% of non-Indigenous men completed their master’s or doctoral degree in a timely manner.

Respondents were also asked the main reason they did not complete their 2015 program in the usual length of time. Among those who took longer to finish a bachelor’s degree or higher, the most commonly reported reasons, irrespective of Indigenous identity, are academic (28% for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous graduates) and personal (21% for non-Indigenous and 20% among Indigenous respondents). However, among Indigenous graduates with a bachelor’s degree or higher, family responsibilities (14%) was the third most commonly reported reason compared to 6% among non-Indigenous graduates.Note Note

Self-reported differences in less timely completion among Indigenous people compared to the non-Indigenous population also likely reflect, at least in part, the higher proportion of Indigenous women with parental responsibilities while trying to complete their postsecondary education. Higher fertility ratesNote and younger age at first birthNote are well-documented differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous women.  Other data from the 2017 APS also indicate that nearly a quarter (24%) of Indigenous women aged 25 to 64 with a bachelor’s degree or higher had their first child before age 25.Note  

The majority of Indigenous women who graduated with a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2015 were employed in 2018

Among Indigenous women who graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree or higher and who had not returned to school,Note 91% were employed three years later (compared with 86% of Indigenous men), 6% were unemployed and 3% were not in the labour force. The proportions employed among the non-Indigenous population with the same level of education were similar for women at 92% and men at 93%.

Table 6 shows the proportion of graduates employed in 2018 by selected type of degree. The results for Indigenous women are consistent with existing research which shows that higher education is associated with higher rates of employment.Note Specifically, the majority (92%) of Indigenous women who graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree or higher were employed in 2018, significantly higher than the proportion employed among Indigenous women with a degree below the bachelor level (78%). As for Indigenous male graduates, rates of employment did not differ significantly by degree level.


Table 6
Proportion employed among 2015 graduates, by Indigenous identity, sex and type of degree, Canada, 2018
Table summary
This table displays the results of Proportion employed among 2015 graduates. The information is grouped by Type of degree (appearing as row headers), Indigenous identity and sex, Indigenous population , Non-Indigenous population, Women and Men, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Type of degree Indigenous identity and sex
Indigenous population Non-Indigenous population
Women Men Women Men
percent
Below bachelor's degreeTable 6 Note 1 (ref.) 77.9Table 6 Note § 78.3Table 6 Note § 89.7 91.3
Bachelor's degree or higher 90.9Note * 85.5 91.6 92.9
Bachelor's degreeTable 6 Note 2 90.6Note * 84.9 90.9 92.6
Master's degree or earned doctorate 92.0Note * 87.9 93.3Note * 94.0

About 7 in 10 Indigenous women who graduated with a bachelor’s degree or higher worked in a job or business closely related to their field of study

The majority of Indigenous women who graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree or higher and were employedNote three years after graduation reported that their job or business was closely related to their university program (66%). Another 20% reported their job or business was somewhat related, while the remaining 14% reported their job or business was not at all related.

For Indigenous women, similar proportions reported their job or business was closely related to their 2015 program, regardless of whether their post-secondary qualification was at, above or below the bachelor level (Table 7). For men (Indigenous or not) as well as for non-Indigenous women, a graduate degree was positively associated with finding employment more closely related to their field of study. For example, among Indigenous men, 68% of those with a degree below the bachelor level reported their job was closely related to their education; while this increased to 88% for those with a master’s or doctoral degree. 

In general, the results suggest that advanced degrees at the master's level or higher tend to result in employment more closely related to one's studies than lower levels of postsecondary qualification.


Table 7
Proportion who reported having a job or business that was closely related to their 2015 degree, by Indigenous identity, sex and type of degree, Canada, 2018
Table summary
This table displays the results of Proportion who reported having a job or business that was closely related to their 2015 degree. The information is grouped by Type of degree (appearing as row headers), Indigenous identity and sex, Indigenous population , Non-Indigenous population, Women and Men, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Type of degree Indigenous identity and sex
Indigenous population Non-Indigenous population
Women Men Women Men
percent
Below bachelor's degreeTable 7 Note 1 (ref.) 67.6 68.1 63.8 58.4
Bachelor's degree or higher 66.4 72.2 68.2Table 7 Note  60.1
Bachelor's degreeTable 7 Note 2 64.1 68.2 65.1Table 7 Note  57.0
Master's degree or earned doctorate 75.9 88.3Note * Table 7 Note § 76.2Note * Table 7 Note  69.8Note *

Conclusion

Indigenous women are increasingly completing postsecondary qualifications. These findings highlight an increase in the educational attainment of Indigenous women from 2006 to 2016, especially in terms of completing postsecondary degrees. Furthermore, the results are consistent with other research demonstrating that having a degree at the bachelor level or above is positively associated with higher rates of employment, especially for Indigenous women.

Future research could build off of these findings by examining 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 addition to Indigenous men 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.

The study also identifies a number of findings that appear to ease the transition to postsecondary education and further reduce the barriers that many First Nations, Métis and Inuit women face in the pursuit of higher education. For instance, only about a quarter of Indigenous women with a degree at the bachelor’s level or higher reported having participated in workshops and activities aimed at helping Indigenous students to succeed in postsecondary education. Future research might explore the mechanisms for enabling a greater proportion First Nations, Métis and Inuit students to benefit from these support programs. Indigenous students also tend to graduate at older ages and are more likely to have parenting responsibilities in addition to their academic responsibilities. It would be beneficial for future research to explore the adequacy of access to culturally-appropriate, affordable child care as well as other forms of supports for older students.

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 will allow 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 our lives.

Paula Arriagada is a research analyst with the Centre for Social Data Insights and Innovation at Statistics Canada.

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Data sources, methods and definitions

Data sources

Data in the first part of this article are from the 2016 Census of Population as well as the 2006 Census. More information on each is available.Note Additional information on Census data quality, comparability for Indigenous peoplesNote and Census data related to educationNote is also available.

The second part of the article uses data from the 2017 Aboriginal Peoples Survey (APS), which is a voluntary, national survey of First Nations people living off reserve, Métis, and Inuit aged 15 and over, living in private dwellings. It excluded people living on Indian reserves and settlements and in certain First Nations communities in Yukon and the Northwest Territories. More information about the survey design, target population, survey concepts and response rates is available.Note

The final section uses the 2018 National Graduates Survey (NGS)—a voluntary survey of graduates of public postsecondary educational institutions across Canada (all ten provinces and territories) in the calendar year 2015, who were living in Canada at the time of survey data collection in 2018. The target population of the survey excludes graduates from private post-secondary institutions, graduates who completed “continuing education” at universities and colleges (unless they led to a degree or diploma), and graduates in apprenticeship programs. The survey collects information on academic paths, funding for postsecondary education, and the transition into the labour market, as well as demographics and income. Additional information on the 2018 National Graduates Survey is available elsewhere.Note

Methodology

Census comparisons between 2006 and 2016 were conducted using an adjusted base to control for differences in incompletely enumerated reserves from one cycle to another. However, point estimates—unless otherwise specified—were compared without adjusting for incomplete enumeration.  In the 2016 Census of Population there were 14 Indian reserves and Indian settlements that were incompletely enumerated,Note down from 22 in the 2006 Census of Population.Note

To ensure the confidentiality of responses collected for the 2016 Census, a random rounding process is used to alter the values reported in individual cells. As a result, when these data are summed or grouped, the total value may not match the sum of the individual values since the total and subtotals are independently rounded. Similarly, percentage distributions, which are calculated on rounded data, may not necessarily add up to 100%. Because of random rounding, counts and percentages may vary slightly between different census products such as analytical documents, highlight tables and data tables.

All estimates in this report using data from the 2017 APS and 2018 NGS, are based on survey weights that account for sample design, non-response and known population totals. A bootstrapping technique was applied when calculating all estimates of variance.

Definitions

Indigenous identity refers to whether a person reported being First Nations (North American Indian), Métis or Inuk (Inuit), and/or being a Registered or Treaty Indian (that is, registered under the Indian Act of Canada), and/or being a member of a First Nation or Indian Band. Census data for specific Indigenous groups (First Nations, Métis or Inuit) refer to those who reported a single identity. The APS data represent a combination of single and multiple responses for First Nations people living off reserve, Métis and Inuit.

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Appendix

In 2016, there were more than 977,000 First Nations people living in Canada. Of those, just over three-quarters (76%) were First Nations people with registered or treaty Indian status– that is, they are registered under the Indian Act of Canada. The other 24% did not have registered or treaty Indian status.

Given the obligations that governments have towards First Nations people, and the specific programs and funding available for those with registered or treaty Indian status, it is important to consider some of the educational experiences of the First Nations population by status, including highest level of educational attainment, increases in educational attainment over time, as well as sources of postsecondary funding.

In 2016, 47% of First Nations women aged 25 to 64 with registered or treaty Indian status had a postsecondary qualification (Table A1). In comparison, more than half (56%) of First Nations women aged 25 to 64 without registered or treaty Indian status had postsecondary qualifications in 2016. Among non-Indigenous women, the corresponding proportion was 67%.


Table A1
Highest level of educational attainment, First Nations people aged 25 to 64, by Registered or Treaty Indian Status and sex, 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Highest level of educational attainment. The information is grouped by Highest level of educational attainment (appearing as row headers), Registered or Treaty Indian, Not a Registered or Treaty Indian, Women and Men, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Highest level of educational attainment Registered or Treaty Indian Not a Registered or Treaty Indian
Women Men Women Men
percent
No certificate, diploma or degree 29.6 36.9 16.7 23.1
Secondary (high) school diploma or equivalency degree 23.8 23.1 27.1 28.8
Postsecondary certificate, diploma or degree 46.6 40.0 56.2 48.0
Apprenticeship or trades certificate or diploma 6.5 17.0 8.4 18.4
College, CEGEP or other non-university certificate or diploma 24.7 15.3 30.5 18.9
University certificate or diploma below bachelor level 3.7 2.0 2.9 1.7
University, certificate, diploma or degree at bachelor level or above 11.6 5.7 14.4 9.0

First Nations women, regardless of registered Indian status, were more likely than their male counterparts to have postsecondary qualifications. Furthermore, educational attainment at the postsecondary level was also higher for First Nations men aged 25 to 64 without registered Indian status than for those with registered Indian status.

The educational attainment of First Nations women with and without registered Indian status has increased over time. However, the increase has been greater among First Nations without status. For example, the proportion with a degree at the bachelor level or above increased from 9% in 2006 for First Nations women aged 25 to 64 with registered Indian status to 12% in 2016. In comparison the proportion increased from 9% to 14% for First Nations women without registered Indian status. Among First Nations men without registered Indian status, the increase was from 6% to 9% in the same ten-year period (5% to 6% for First Nations men with registered status).


Table A2
Sources of postsecondary funding, First Nations people living off reserve aged 25 to 64 with a bachelor's degree or higher, by Registered or Treaty Indian Status and sex, 2017
Table summary
This table displays the results of Sources of postsecondary funding. The information is grouped by Funding sources (appearing as row headers), Registered or Treaty Indian, Not a Registered or Treaty Indian, Men (ref.) and Women, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Funding sources Registered or Treaty Indian Not a Registered or Treaty Indian
Men (ref.) Women Men (ref.) Women
percent
Government loan 31.9 20.5Note * 34.0 61.5Note * Table A2 Note 
Grants, bursaries or scholarships 24.2 20.3 26.5Note E: Use with caution 34.1
Band or Inuit Land Claim 57.7 70.5Note * Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published
Employment Insurance Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published
Own savings 30.9 24.3 53.4Table A2 Note  34.8Note *
Worked while going to school 32.5 21.8Note * 47.3 35.6
Family 17.2Note E: Use with caution 15.5Note E: Use with caution 21.1Note E: Use with caution 37.3Note * Table A2 Note 
Bank loan/line of credit Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published 12.3Note E: Use with caution
Other Note F: too unreliable to be published 4.9Note E: Use with caution Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published

There were also differences between First Nations women with and without status in the sources of postsecondary funding. For example, among First Nations women with registered Indian status and who had a degree at the bachelor’s level or higher, seven-in-ten reported receiving funding from Band or Inuit Land Claim (Table A2). In contrast, among those without registered status, six-in-ten reported receiving funding from government loans.

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