Aboriginal Women - A Profile from the 1996 Census - Second Edition

Author: First Nations and Northern Statistics 
Date: Revised December 2001 
ISBN: 0-662-65901-5
QS- 3557-010-BB-A1

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(179 Kb, 45 Pages)


Table of Contents


The principal author of this publication was Sandra Elgersma. It was prepared under the direction of Bonita Coole-Stevenson, A/Manager, First Nations and Northern Statistics, Corporate Information Management Directorate. Many thanks to Mindy McHardy and Christina Pleizier for their roles in the publication's development. Other valuable input was also provided by colleagues from DIAND program and policy areas.


First Nations communities, policy makers, community leaders and other stakeholders can benefit greatly from a socio-economic profile of Aboriginal people in there communities, their regions and nationally. This publication focuses on Aboriginal women since their experience, and the socio-economic variables used to profile them, reveal a population group distinct from non-Aboriginal women, as well as Aboriginal men.

Gender and race impact on the socio-economic well being of Aboriginal women as individuals, as mothers and as members of their communities. Understanding the unique challenges facing Aboriginal women is therefore an integral part of any strategy to build stronger peoples, communities and economies. The objective of this report is to provide a demographic and socio-economic profile of Aboriginal women in Canada which reveals the distinct challenges facing this group and help inform and support the policy making process.

Data in this report are made available from DIAND's core tabulations and specialized data extractions from the 1996 Census of Population. The report is divided into seven main sections which examine population, language, family, education, labour force, income and mobility characteristics of Canada's Aboriginal women by ethnic group (Inuit, North American Indian, and Métis). Where appropriate, comparable statistics are also provided for the total Canadian population, and the male population.

The Notes to Users section of this report will provide readers with information on how Aboriginal data are derived from the Census, as well as how to interpret population counts based on differing definitions of Aboriginal, and from non-census sources such as the Indian Register. The section also provides details on interpreting data on Registered Indians on and off reserve. Readers are strongly encouraged to review this section before proceeding.

Note to Users

The 1996 Census and Aboriginal Data

The 1996 Census introduced several changes to the questions pertaining to the Aboriginal population asked in the 1991 Census. The changes have allowed for multiple definitions of the Aboriginal population, each with different population counts. Users of census data should understand the differences in definitions between census years, which in turn affect the comparability of the Total Aboriginal, Inuit, Métis, and North American Indian populations across censuses.

The difference in counts arises in 1996 with the inclusion of a new question on Aboriginal Identity (Q18), in addition to the Ethnic Origin (Q17), Band Membership (Q20) and Registered Indian (Q21) questions asked in 1991. 1996 Identity based data cannot be compared directly with the ancestry/origin based data from previous censuses.

As explained above, the 1996 Census includes a new lens to view the Aboriginal population. This lens is "identity", measured by responses to the question, "Is this person an Aboriginal person, that is, North American Indian, Métis or Inuit (Eskimo)?"(Q18). North American Indian (NAI), Métis, and Inuit were the printed choices given, with the instruction to mark the circle(s) that best apply. From this question, identity based population counts were obtained for NAI only, Métis only, and Inuit only, as well as for those who claimed multiple Aboriginal identities.

Differences in counts also resulted from changes made to the Ethnic Origin question (Q17). Prior to 1996, counts of Aboriginal persons were derived primarily from a question that asked respondents about their ancestry. In both the 1991 and 1996 Censuses, respondents were asked: "To which ethnic or cultural group(s) did this person's ancestors belong?". In 1991, 15 of the most frequent origins were listed and respondents were asked to mark as many as were applicable. In addition, two blank spaces were provided for other responses, and several other origins were provided as examples. In 1996, the questionnaire did not provide a list of answer categories, and instead provided four blank spaces for respondents to write in their origins. Examples of origins were provided as illustrations, and for the first time, "Canadian" was included among the examples. These modifications, in particular the inclusion of "Canadian" resulted in a major change in the way ethnic origins were reported. The number of "Canadian" responses was higher, suggesting that respondents who had previously reported themselves of alternative ancestry reporting their ancestry as Canadian in 1996. This may have had an impact on the pattern of responses for Aboriginal origins.

Understanding the Differences in Aboriginal Population Counts

The questions from the 1996 Census pertaining to Aboriginal people can be combined and analysed in many different ways. The definition of Aboriginal used by INAC (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada) in this publication combines answers from all four "Aboriginal" questions asked in the 1996 Census. According to this definition, the Total Aboriginal Population in Canada is 1,170,190. "Aboriginal" refers to those who reported themselves as Treaty Indians or Registered Indians (Q21), and/or as having Aboriginal identity (i.e. North American Indian, Inuit, or Métis) (Q18), and/or with one or more Aboriginal ethnic origins (Q17), and/or having membership in an Indian Band or First Nation (Q20). This population is referred to as the ancestry or ethnic origin Aboriginal population.

In their January 13, 1998 release of Aboriginal data, Statistics Canada reports an Aboriginal population of 799,010. This population is referred to as the Aboriginal Identity Population, and is derived from responses to three questions on the 1996 Census form. It includes those persons who reported identifying with at least one Aboriginal group, i.e. North American Indian, Métis or Inuit (Eskimo) (Q18) and/or who reported being a Treaty Indian or a Registered Indian (Q21) and/or who reported they were members of an Indian Band or First Nation (Q20).

While these two definitions of Aboriginal are prevalent, others are also used by Statistics Canada and INAC. For example, Statistics Canada presents the Aboriginal ancestry only population in certain data products such as the Nation and Dimension Series'. INAC also recognizes different definitions in its policy research, such as identity only, ancestry only, and the legal definition of Registered Indian as defined by the Indian Act. Users of Aboriginal data should be aware of the definitions used in any data product.

Understanding the Differences in Registered Indian Population Counts

The 1996 Census reported approximately 488,000 Registered Indians. In contrast, the Indian Register, which is maintained by INAC, recorded approximately 611,000 for the same year. These differences result from methodological and conceptual differences, as well as incomplete enumeration and undercoverage on the part of the 1996 Census.

One difference in methodology arises from the different purpose and time line of the two federal counts. Chapter I, Section 5 (1) of the Indian Act requires that the name of every person entitled to be a Registered Indian be recorded and maintained by INAC. Roll-ups for the Register are completed as of December 31.

In contrast, the Statistics Act (1971) directs the Chief Statistician of Canada to undertake a comprehensive census of the population on a decennial basis. Additionally, a five year census of reduced scope and breadth is also required. The 1996 Census took place during February and March in remote communities in the North, and on May 14th in the rest of Canada. At least seven months of additional life events (births and deaths) for Registered Indians was captured by the Register, in comparison to the Census. (It should be noted that reporting lags sometimes occur between the occurrence of a given life event and its report and recording in the Indian Register.)

A second methodological difference arises from the source of data. The Indian Register operates on the basis of registry groups, which maintain and update their links with individual Registered Indians continuously throughout the year. The Indian Register covers all Registered Indians, regardless of their locations (including those outside Canada) or living arrangements. In contrast, the census is a self-reporting survey that takes place once every five years. Census data present a domestic count of those present in Canada on Census Day.

Finally, the 1996 Census experienced incomplete enumeration and undercoverage with seventy-seven Indian reserves and settlements, which accounts for most of the difference between the census count and that produced by the Indian Register. In the 1996 Census, there were an estimated 44,000 people living on those reserves, primarily Registered Indians, resulting in under-representation of the on-reserve Registered Indian population.

Differences in On-reserve Population Counts

It is the responsibility of INAC to work with Statistics Canada to identify legal reserves and Indian settlements to be recognized in the census. Statistics Canada uses this legal definition of Indian reserves and settlements to define on-reserve communities. When INAC formulates its on-reserve count, it includes the population on legally defined reserves and Indian settlements (including those on reserves, on Crown Land, and on Indian settlements) as well as the population living in certain other areas under INAC jurisdiction.

INAC Census Core Tabulations

The socio-economic indicators presented in this report were derived from 1996 Census Core Tabulations prepared for INAC by Statistics Canada. These data use INAC's definitions of "Aboriginal" and "on-reserve" and are used in INAC publications. The data maintained in INAC's census core tabulations are provided at various levels of census geography. These include census subdivisions, census metropolitan areas, provinces/territories and national aggregations. These terms are defined by Statistics Canada. INAC also maintains a custom geography by band and tribal council, which represents roll-ups of reserves as defined by INAC (census subdivisions).

Indian Register Data

The sections on Population and Family in this publication contain data derived from the Indian Register. Before Indian Register data can be used to calculate demographic indices, adjustments need to be made for the late and under reporting of births and deaths. While most births are reported within five years of their occurrence, others have a much longer reporting lag. The same is true for the reporting of deaths. Demographic indices such as the rate of natural increase, crude death and birth rates, and the fertility rate in this publication were derived from the adjusted Indian Register counts.

Terms Used in this Publication

Total Aboriginal Population: Refers to those persons who reported identifying with at least one Aboriginal group, i.e. North American Indian, Métis, or Inuit(Q18) and/or those who reported being a Treaty Indian or a Registered Indian as defined by the Indian Act of Canada(Q21) and/or those with one or more Aboriginal ethnic origins(Q17), and/or those who were members of an Indian Band or First Nation(Q20).

Registered Indians: A Registered Indian is a person registered as an Indian according to the Indian Act. In the 1996 Census, Statistics Canada observed this legal definition in Question 21. Thus the census data for Registered Indians refers to those who reported registry under the Indian Act of Canada. This count is distinct from the Indian Registry maintained by INAC, as noted in the discussion "understanding the differences in Registered Indian counts" above.

Inuit: An Aboriginal people in northern Canada, who primarily live north of the tree line in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, Northern Quebec, and Labrador. The 1996 Census count presented in this publication refers to those respondents who were not Registered Indians and reported identifying as Inuit (Q18).

Métis1: People of mixed First Nation and European ancestry who identify themselves as Métis people, as distinct from First Nations people, Inuit, or non-Aboriginal people. The 1996 Census count presented in this publication refers to those respondents who were not Registered Indians and reported identifying as Métis (Q18).

Other Aboriginal comprises several groups:
- Persons who were not Registered Indian but reported identifying as North American Indian (Q18); as well as persons who were not Registered Indian, did not identify as Aboriginal, did not report Aboriginal ancestry, but who did report band membership (Q20). Together these comprise 18.7%
- Persons who were not Registered Indian, did not identify as Aboriginal but who reported Aboriginal ancestry. These account for 80.5%
- Persons who were not Registered Indian but who reported multiple Aboriginal identity. These account for 0.9%
* We recognize that this larger aggregate conceals the different characteristics of the three groups that constitute it. The Aboriginal origin (not Registered, did not identify) portion of the Other Aboriginal count comprises 80.5% of the total group. It is important to recognize the influence this group's characteristics will have on the overall total, and we recommend further analysis of each group on its own.

Non-Aboriginal population: This group is comprised of the balance of Canadians who did not indicate themselves as Aboriginal people in any way.


The curves of the population pyramid in Figures 1-1 to 1-3 represent visually the differences in population distribution between Aboriginal groups and the non-Aboriginal population in Canada. A youthful population is graphically depicted as a pyramid, with the bulk of the weight distributed near the bottom, and decreasing numbers moving towards the top. An aging population resembles a mushroom, with the cap of older population topping a more slender stem of young population.

The age distributions of on-reserve Registered Indians in Figure 1-1 form a pyramidal shape, indicating that the majority of this population is young. Inuit experience a similar situation, with an ever greater concentration of youth below ten years of age (Figure 1-2). The shape of the non-Aboriginal population pyramid (as illustrated in Figure 1-3 by the area under the light shaded line) resembles a person with arms outstretched. This shape reflects the large group of people aged 30-54.

Table 1-1 shows the percentage of population in each age group by ethnic designation.

Fifty percent of the Total Aboriginal female population are less than 24 years old, whereas 50% of Non-Aboriginal females were less than thirty-four. For most ethnic designations, the difference in the proportion of males and females in each age group were not large. Only in the older age categories, where different life expectancies exert their effect, are significant differences by sex discernible.

Table 1-1: Total Population by 5 Year Age Groups, 1996

Dependency ratios can also be used to examine population distributions by age. A dependency ratio presents the dependent population (those aged 15 and 65) as a ratio of the working age or intermediate population (those aged 15-64). Table 1-2 shows dependency ratios for the different Aboriginal groups and the non-Aboriginal population. The Total Aboriginal population (including males and females) experienced a dependency ratio of 60 in 1996. This means that for every 100 Aboriginal people of working age, there were 60 dependents (old and young). The range of dependency ratios among ethnic designations is from 47 (non-Aboriginal population) to 77 (Inuit). The dependency ratio for Registered Indians differed significantly between populations located on or off reserves. On-reserve Registered Indians had a dependency ratio of 73, whereas the dependency ratio was 59 for Registered Indians living off reserves.

Table 1-2: Dependency Ratios by Ethnic Designation, 1996

Among Aboriginal people, children accounted for the majority of dependents. For instance, the total Registered Indian population had 60 children (15) and 6 elderly (65+) dependents for every 100 of working age. In contrast, elderly dependents (65+) accounted for a greater percentage of the non-Aboriginal population dependency ratio. Seventeen out of 47 dependents in the non-Aboriginal dependency ratio were in the 65+ age group. The patterns for dependency ratios reflect the patterns already revealed by the population pyramids, and suggest implications for services intended to relieve the burdens of care for the respective populations.

Figure 1-4 shows death rates for Registered Indians by sex and age. A death rate shows the annual number of deaths per 1,000 population. According to adjusted Indian Register data, the death rate for the total population of Registered Indians was 4.6 in 1996. The death rate for Canada as a whole has remained consistent at 7.2. While the rate for the general Canadian population is higher than that for Registered Indians, this is in part due to the higher average age of the Canadian population.

The rate of natural increase is the rate at which a population grows, without including the effects of migration. It is calculated by subtracting the crude death rate from the crude birth rate. The rate of natural increase for Registered Indians was 20 per 1,000 in 1996. In comparison, the rate of natural increase for the total Canadian population was 5.1 per 1,000 in the same year.2

The rate of natural increase also affects the doubling time of a population. As the name suggests, doubling time refers to the amount of time needed for a given population to double in size. The doubling time for the Registered Indian population is 37.1 years. This calculation assumes an average annual growth rate of almost 1.9% based on the period 1998-2008.1

Figure 1-5 reveals striking differences among Aboriginal groups concerning the proportion of the population that reside in urban versus rural areas. Distribution of a population in rural, remote, or urban areas has implications for the socio-economic characteristics that follow. Inuit have the greatest percentage of their population concentrated in rural areas (72%), followed by Registered Indians (57%). According to Statistics Canada, urban areas have minimum population concentrations of 1,000 and a population density of at least 400 per square km. All territory outside urban areas is considered rural. The Other Aboriginal population has an urban percentage similar to that of Non-Aboriginals (75 and 79% of the total population respectively).


Language is instrumental in creating a strong cultural identity, and key in maintaining a vibrant culture. The Assembly of First Nations summarizes, “our languages are the essence of who we are as First Nations. It passes on our culture, traditions, history, legends, and spirituality from one generation to another”. Thus the shrinking population speaking Aboriginal languages has significant implications that go beyond maintaining linguistic capabilities. As the number of language users decreases, the threat to languages increases. Indeed, Cree, Ojibway, and Inuktitut are the only three languages on solid ground.

The longevity of a language can be tested by comparing the percentage of people claiming it as mother tongue across age groups. Mother tongue refers to the first language learned at home in childhood, and still understood by the individual at the time of the census. If a certain language is more prevalent as mother tongue among the older age groups, this suggests that the language is in decline and that younger people are no longer learning that language as their mother tongue.

Table 2-1 shows the breakdown of mother tongues across age groups for the female Aboriginal population. The percentage of Aboriginal females who spoke an Amerindian language or Inuktitut as mother tongue dropped as age decreased for every Aboriginal group. For female Registered Indians on a reserve, there was a difference of 44% between those age 0-4 (35%) and those aged 65+ (79%) who spoke an Amerindian language as mother tongue. The loss of mother tongue was not as great for Inuktitut speakers. For Inuit females, the difference was only 19% between those aged 0-4 (63%) and those aged 65+ (82%). English only as a mother tongue also varied by age group. It was reported that 78% of all Aboriginal females aged 0-4, compared to 42% of their elders aged 65+, report English only as mother tongue.

Table 2-2: Total Female Population by Home Language, 1996

Looking back to Figure 1-5 on urban/rural population distribution, the Métis and Other Aboriginal populations had a higher percentage of their populations in urban areas. These groups also report a lower percentage of Aboriginal languages as home language, the language spoken most often in their home (Table 2-2). For instance, 3% of Métis and less than 1% of Other Aboriginal females reported an Aboriginal home language, whereas 58% of Inuit females reported an Aboriginal home language.

Certain measures have been developed to assess the health of a language. One such measure is the index of continuity. The index of continuity presents home language as a percentage of mother tongue (HL/MT). It provides a comparison between how many use that language in their homes, and how many people spoke a certain language in their youth and still understand it. A vibrant language will have more people reporting it as the language spoken at home than as mother tongue (greater than 100%). In contrast, a declining language will have fewer people who continue to use it in the home compared to the number who spoke it as mother tongue.

Table 2-3 shows the index of continuity for Registered Indian females, living on and off reserves.

Table 2-3: Total Registered Indian Females by Index of Continuity, 1996, On and Off-reserve

For the subtotal “Amerindian languages and Inuktitut”, there is a significant difference in the index of continuity between the female population living on and off reserves. The index of continuity for Amerindian languages and Inuktitut was 79% for on-reserve Registered Indian females. This means that 79% of those who learned an Amerindian language or Inuktitut in their childhood continue to speak it at home. In contrast, the index of continuity was 36% for Registered Indian females living off reserves. This difference reaffirms the association named earlier, between isolation and language maintenance. It also presents a challenge to Aboriginal people living off reserves who wish to maintain their linguistic heritage.

Table 2-4: Total Female Population by Index of Continuity by Language, 1996

Table 2-4 shows the index of continuity across Aboriginal languages. Among the female population, languages such as Haida and Mohawk have a low percentage of people who continue to use them in their home. For these languages only about 8% of the Total Aboriginal population continue to use them. Conversely, the Tsimshian languages, spoken by some of BC's Aboriginal groups, have a high index of continuity at 154% for the Total Aboriginal female population. This may mean that interest in the language has been renewed, and more Aboriginal females are learning Tsimshian as a second language, though it was not their mother tongue. Figure 2-1 shows the index of continuity by ethnic designation for Amerindian languages and Inuktitut, as well as the three languages with the largest population, Cree, Ojibway, and Inuktitut.

In her article on Aboriginal languages, Mary Jane Norris compares the index of continuity for Aboriginal females and males. She notes that “language loss is most pronounced during the labour force years”, and that this trend is “particularly noticeable for women”. Norris links this observation to Aboriginal women's greater likelihood to leave reserves and move to locations with increased potential to marry non-Aboriginal men. Norris' observations have great implications for the continuity of Aboriginal languages, especially in light of the role of women in raising children and transmitting culture.

Figure 2-1: Total Female Population by Index of Continuity by Language, 1996

Considering the low percentages of Aboriginals who continue to speak their native mother tongue, one would expect the use of English and French to be fairly high. Knowledge of Official Languages refers to “the ability to conduct a conversation in English only, French only, in both English and French, or in neither of the official languages”. According to Table 2-5, more than 60% of females in all Aboriginal groups can conduct a conversation in English while the conversational ability in French ranges from 3% to 10%. Many Inuit females speak neither official language (16%). In light of the isolated location of most Inuit communities and the strong index of continuity for Inuktitut, this should not be surprising.

Table 2-5: Total Female Population by Knowledge of Official Languages,


Family is a social institution that reflects individual women's choices about reproduction, family decisions concerning children, as well as community factors, such as the availability of birth control and cultural values surrounding children. This chapter will look at Aboriginal women and their families, including variables such as census family structure, marital status, birth rate, and fertility.

Table 3-1: Total Female Population by Marital Status, 1996

A fair degree of similarity exists among women with respect to marital status (Table 3-1). All Aboriginal groups reported that more than 50% of women had never been married, while on the other hand, non-Aboriginals had a considerably lower percentage at 38%. Thirty-four percent of Aboriginal women reported being married compared to 47% for the female non-Aboriginal population. It should be noted that the category "married" includes those who are living common law. The percentage of women reporting themselves as "divorced" was lower for on-reserve Registered Indian women and Inuit women than the other groups. Non-Aboriginal women were almost twice as likely to report "widowed" status (8%), likely due to their more aged population.

Table 3-2: Census Families by Census Family Structure, 1996

Marital status can be examined at an aggregate level through the variable census family structure (Table 3-2). This variable provides data for "husband-wife families" (including common-law), "male lone parents" and "female lone parents". The majority of census families, parents with their unmarried children who live in the same dwelling, in 1996 had two parents. Seventy-two percent of Registered Indian families living off reserve are dual-parent. This compares to 86% for non-Aboriginal families. Few census families, Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, are lead by a male lone-parent. Just over 5% of Registered Indian families living on-reserve are male lone-parent compared to 2% for non-Aboriginal families. The percentage of female lone-parent families is 19% for Registered Indians on-reserve compared to 12% for non-Aboriginals. The prevalence of female lone-parent families was even higher for those living off reserves covering 25% of these census families.

Across Aboriginal ethnic groups the number of children (includes children from adoption and blended families) in census families varies significantly. Readers should not confuse this with fertility rate which reflects the number of children a woman actually bears in her lifetime.

Census families with no children were twice as common among non-Aboriginal families than among Inuit families. Among all groups, families with one or two children generally accounted for 25-30% of families each. A significant difference again appeared with regard to census families with three or more children. Non-Aboriginal families were far less likely to have three or more children (12%) than Inuit families (34%).

Figures 3-1 and 3-2 provide visual illustration of the number of children non-Aboriginal and Inuit families reported in the 1996 Census. More than half of Inuit families had two or more children, while more than half of non-Aboriginal families were childless or had only one child.

The birth rate is the annual number of live births per 1,000 people in a population. High birth rates can reflect the influence of biological, environmental or cultural factors on a population. High birth rates, for example, can be a response to a high infant mortality rate. In certain cultures, in which family members are needed to provide labour or social security, a high demand for offspring maybe present. The birth rate for Registered Indians in 1996 was 24.6 per 1,000. This means that for every 1,000 Registered Indians, approximately 25 babies were born. The birth rate for Registered Indians has been decreasing, and it is projected to fall to 21 by the year 2008. The birth rate for the total Canadian population was 12.3 per 1,000 in 1996. Although the birth rate for Registered Indians is projected to fall, it is still two times that of the general Canadian population. This is consistent with a young population.

The fertility rate of a population reports how many children on average each 1,000 women will have during their child bearing years. The projected fertility rate for Registered Indians in 1996 was 2.7. Thus each woman per 1,000 would bear 3 children in her lifetime. There is a difference, however, in the projected fertility of Registered Indians living on and off reserves. Registered Indians living on reserves had a projected fertility rate of 3.2. This is significantly higher than the off-reserve projected fertility rate of 2.4.1 The fertility rate of all Canadian women in 1996 was 1.6.


In Canada today education is a key socio-economic building block that exerts a significant impact on other variables of well-being, such as employment and income. Many positive changes have been made to improve the educational opportunities and outcomes for Aboriginal people; including greater control over educational programs and more culturally appropriate material. However, there are still differences in the educational attainment of Aboriginal women versus non-Aboriginal women. A variety of factors may account for these differences; schooling requirements for regional jobs and access to education, for example.

An examination of the variable highest level of schooling reveals different patterns of educational achievement among the female population 15 and over. In the 1996 Census, respondents fifteen and over were asked to report the highest grade or year of elementary or secondary school attended, or the highest year of university or other non-university completed. This variable captures years of school completed as well as degrees obtained.2

Figure 4-1: Female Population 15+ Not Attending School Full Time (%) by Highest Level of Schooling, 1996

Figure 4-1 shows that the highest level of schooling achieved for Aboriginal women varies according to their ethnic designation and location. Forty-one percent of Inuit women possess less than a grade nine education compared to 14% of non-Aboriginal women. Only 5% of Inuit women reported university as their highest level of schooling compared to 21% of non-Aboriginal women. About 30% of Aboriginal women claimed trades level training as their highest level of schooling.

Aboriginal populations living in more urban areas reported having higher levels of schooling than those in rural or remote areas. For example, 19% of Other Aboriginal women claimed university as their highest level of schooling, as did 12% of off-reserve Registered Indian women. This compares with 9% of on-reserve Registered Indian women and 3% of Inuit women. These data suggest that remoteness remains a significant barrier to improving educational attainment.

Tables 4-1 and 4-2 show highest level of schooling data by gender, for those not attending school full time. It is useful to focus on those not attending school full time to ensure that data on the highest level of schooling achieved are not skewed by including those who have not yet completed their educational training. Comparing table 4-1 to 4-2 women successfully complete a level of schooling (i.e. obtaining a graduation certificate, diploma or degree) at a higher rate than men. For example, 29% of Aboriginal women compared to 27% of Aboriginal men reporting grades 9 to 13 as their highest level of schooling, possess a secondary school graduation certificate. For non-Aboriginal women the completion rate is 45%. Other noteworthy differences may reflect the impact of geographic location. Completion rates for Registered Indian women living on a reserve and Inuit women are very similar. Only 17% of Registered Indian women living on a reserve and 18% of Inuit women having grades 9 to 13 as their highest level of schooling possess a graduation certificate. This compares to 23% for Registered Indian women living off a reserve and 29% for Métis women in the same group. For the on-reserve Registered Indian population, the difference in university completion between males and females is remarkable. Females with a degree accounted for 30% of those with university, ten percentage points greater than their male counterparts.

There was little variation among women with respect to major field of study for post-secondary education (Table 4-3). Commerce, management, and business administration was the most popular category of field of study for women. Education, health, and social sciences each accounted for 15-20% of women's post-secondary degrees. It is interesting to note that on-reserve Registered Indian women and Inuit women had a higher percentage of post-secondary study in education, recreation, and counselling services. These fields of study tend to be available in remote communities, while some of the others (i.e. engineering and applied sciences) tend to be taught in urban centres.

Table 4-3: Female Population 15 + with Post Secondary Degree by Major Field of Study

Figures 4-2 to 4-4 illustrate one important effect of education on the labour force. For each employment statistic, women with higher education displayed more favourable statistics, irrespective of ethnic designation. The participation rate, the percentage of the population, aged 15 and over, who are working or actively searching for a job, and the employment/population ratio, the percentage of the population, aged 15 and over, who actually have a job, (Figure 4-2 and 4-3) both show higher rates for those with more education. The unemployment graph (Figure 4-4) clearly illustrates that women with a university degree had the lowest unemployment rate, while those with less than grade nine education had the highest unemployment rate among levels of schooling. The pattern experienced by non-Aboriginal women is repeated for other ethnic designations, although non-Aboriginals tended to experience higher rates of unemployment overall.

The unemployment rate for Total Aboriginal women with university as highest level of schooling (12%) is higher than that for non-Aboriginal women (5%). Off-reserve Registered Indian women and Inuit women also had a higher rate in the same situation. This discrepancy suggests that education is not enough to raise employment levels for Aboriginal women, and that other situational factors, such as discrimination or lack of opportunity also play an important role.

Figure 4-2: Labour Force Participation Rate (%) by Highest Level of Schooling, Females 15+, 1996

Figure 4-3: Employment/Population Ratio by Highest Level of Schooling, Females 15+, 1996

Figure 4-4: Unemployment Rate (%) by Highest Level of Schooling, Females 15+, 1996

Labour Force

The labour force section of the census addresses respondents' involvement with the wage economy. For those who participate in the labour force (regardless of whether they are employed or unemployed at the time of the census), various aspects of their participation are captured. On an aggregate level, labour force statistics such as unemployment rate tell the story of labour force participation. Also captured are occupation and weeks worked.

Readers should note that the non-wage economy is absent from this view of the labour force. This realm of life is particularly relevant for Aboriginal people historically, and still today to varying degrees. Activities such as fishing or hunting for sustenance rather than commercial purposes, bartering goods and services, and the unpaid labours that sustain a household are missing from the census picture of the labour force.

One economic measure familiar to most people is unemployment rate. This statistic determines the percentage of people who are actively seeking work but are unable to secure employment. It is obtained by taking the total unemployed population as a percentage of the total labour force. Figure 5-1 shows the unemployment rate for men and women across Aboriginal groups, as well as for the non-Aboriginal population. For every Aboriginal group, men experienced a higher unemployment rate than women. The difference was especially noticeable on reserves, where Registered Indian males experienced an unemployment rate 12 percentage points higher than their female counterparts. Unemployment rates for Aboriginal women ranged from 14% (Other Aboriginal) to 24% (off-reserve Registered Indian). The data observed in the previous section suggest that highest level of schooling and field of study play a significant role in this.

The participation rate provides the percentage of working aged people who are currently in the labour force. It presents the total labour force as a percentage of the population 15 years and over. Table 5-1 which examines participation rates by gender reveals that the percentage of men 15 and over participation in the labour force is consistently higher than that of women. The large difference observed in participation rates on reserves, for instance, might suggest why on-reserve Registered Indian men experienced a high unemployment rate relative to the women of the same group. Across all groups, Other Aboriginal men experienced the highest participation rate, at 77%. Registered Indian women living on reserves experienced the lowest participation rate, at 45%.

Weeks worked presents a different perspective of the labour force. This variable refers to the number of weeks in 1995 during which persons 15 years of age and over worked for pay or in self-employment. It allows us to see clearly the effects of seasonal and temporary work.

Figures 5-2 to 5-4 illustrate the different patterns of work for the various ethnic groups. For all ethnic groups the majority of women (70% of non-Aboriginals, 53% of Registered Indians and 46% of Inuit) worked 40 or more weeks (Table 5-2). Overall more Inuit women worked for a shorter number of weeks in 1995. This may suggest that available work opportunities for Inuit women are more seasonal in nature. Only 3% of non-Aboriginal women worked 1-5 weeks in 1995. This is much lower than the 7% for Registered Indians or the 10% for Inuit women.

Figure 5-2: Non-Aboriginal Females 15+ who Worked in 1995 by Weeks Worked

Figure 5-3: Inuit Females 15+ who Worked in 1995 by Weeks Worked

Figure 5-4: Registered Indian Females 15+ who Worked in 1995 by Weeks Worked

Table 5-2: Female Population 15+ by Weeks Worked in 1995

Occupation provides another useful perspective of labour force. The occupation one chooses is largely a function of education, previous experiences, and job market factors (including supply and demand trends). For all ethnic groups the greatest percentage of women were employed in sales and service occupations (Table 5-3). The second largest occupational group was business, finance, and administration (from 21% for on-reserve Registered Indian women to 30% for non-Aboriginal women). This category includes financial and business services, administrative and regulatory services, and clerical support services.

On-reserve Registered Indian women reported the highest percentage of all women employed in social science, education, and government (18%), and Inuit women were close behind, with 16% of employment in this occupation category. This type of employment tends to be more available in remote or rural areas than some of the other occupational categories. This proportion will likely increase as self-government gains momentum, and the control of more schools is transferred from federal/provincial jurisdiction to Aboriginal people.

Table 5-3: Female Experienced Labour Force by Occupation (%), 1996

The columns in Figures 5-4 and 5-5 illustrate the different occupations of Aboriginal women and men, as reported by the 1996 Census. Aboriginal men work more often in processing, manufacturing, and utilities, primary industry, and trade, transportation, and equipment operation (combined 52% of total occupations). These same occupation categories account for only 8.5% of Aboriginal women's occupations. The two largest categories of Aboriginal women's occupations, sales & services (40%) and business, finance, and administration (25%), accounted for 20% and 7% of Aboriginal men's occupations respectively.

Figure 5-6: Total Aboriginal Male Experienced Labour Force by Occupation, 1996

Late in the twentieth century efforts were made to obtain a fuller picture of the labour force, one that incorporates unpaid labour. Time spent on child care and housework contributes to the overall effectiveness of the economy, although these costs are often born by nuclear families and informal networks. The following section highlights hours spent in various household activities, by ethnic designation and sex.

Women of all ethnic designations reported spending more time on housework than men. Thirty-four percent of Registered Indian women claimed 30+ hours of housework a week while only 15% of Registered Indian males claimed that much housework. On the other hand, 45% of Registered Indian women compared to 69% of Registered Indian men reported 14 hours or less of housework.

Concerning the hours spent on child care, a similar pattern emerges. For those claiming 30+ hours of child care, Registered Indian women reported 26% while Registered Indian men reported 17%. Fifty-four percent of Registered Indian women compared to 75% of Registered Indian men reported 14 hours of child care or less. It is interesting to note that 32% of Registered Indian women living on reserve contribute 60+ hours to child care compared to 21% for all Aboriginal women. Some possible reasons why the number might be higher on reserve include the availability of child care, the size and/or age of families and cultural influences such as extended family.

The majority of women did not spend time on senior care. Sixty-seven percent of Registered Indian women living on reserve reported no time spent on senior care, 84% of Registered Indian women living off reserve did not spend any time. On-reserve Registered Indian women reported a significantly greater percentage of 10 or more hours of care to seniors. Twelve percent of Registered Indian women on reserve reported spending 10 or more hours per week on senior care compared to 3% for non-Aboriginal women. Finally, the gap between men and women is smaller for this variable that the other two presented.

Table 5-1: Population 15+ by Labour Force Activity by Sex, 1996

Table 5-4: Population 15+ by Household Activity, and by Sex, 1996


This section examines women's incomes as part of economic family income, census family income, as well as by income composition. Furthermore, it explores how income is impacted by age and education.

Figure 6-1 shows total individual income groups for women with an income. The percentage of women without income ranges from a low of 8% for on-reserve Registered Indian women to a high of 13% for Inuit women. The overall pattern for women's incomes was the same across all groups. At least two-thirds of women reported earning a total individual income less than $20,000 per year. More non-Aboriginal women reported income in the higher ranges than Aboriginal women. For example, 3.8% of non-Aboriginal compared to 1.6% of Aboriginal women earned a total individual income greater than $55,000.

While much can be gleaned from income statistics, it is also informative to look behind the numbers and look at the sources of that income. The variable income composition, Figure 6-2, shows the percentage of total income supplied by employment income, government transfer payments, and other income. Government transfer income includes all social net transfers, such as pension, employment insurance, child tax benefits, and other income from government sources. Other income refers to income from investments and other sources (i.e. inheritance, retirement pensions).

For each ethnic designation, men tended to gain more of their income through employment than women. Women tended to gain a greater percentage of their income through government transfer payments than men. Perhaps this is related to the prevalence of female lone parent families, likely to be highly dependent on government transfers.

Figure 6-2 indicates Registered Indian women living on reserve earned 59% of their total income from employment. Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women both earned 70% from employment. The non-Aboriginal population, both male and female, reported at least double the "other income" compared to Aboriginal groups.

Table 6-1: Average Individual Income (1995 $) by Age Group, Females 15+, 1995

Table 6-1 shows average individual income for women aged 15 and over by ethnic designation and by age group. Income for those aged 15-24 was the lowest. Income rises age increases to a peak in the range of 35-54 years old, and then descending again as women move into retirement. The average individual income for Aboriginal women was $14,640. This compares with $19,372 for non-Aboriginal women. Average individual income for on-reserve Registered Indian women was consistently lower over the life cycle than that for off-reserve Registered Indian women. On-reserve, average individual income for women peaked across age groups at $15,965 for those 35-44 years old, while it reached a high of $18,131 off reserves for those 45-54 years old. When the impact of education on individual income is examined (Table 6-2), a positive correlation across all ethnic designations is revealed. According to the 1996 Census, all Canadian women with a university degree had a higher average individual income than those with high school education alone. For Registered Indian women, the difference amounted to a $10,000 increase in average annual income. Among non-Aboriginal women, the difference was slightly higher, with a $12,000 gap. For Inuit women with university as their highest level of schooling, average income was almost $14,000 greater than that of women with less than grade nine level of education. At each level of schooling, non-Aboriginal women experienced a higher average individual income than Aboriginal women.

Table 6-2: Average Individual Income (1995 $) by Highest Level of Schooling, Females 15+, 1995

The pattern for average individual income by highest level of schooling for Registered Indian women did not vary greatly on and off reserves. Incomes for women with less than grade nine and grade 9 -13 levels of education were approximately $1-2000 less for the on-reserve segment than the off-reserve population. One reason for this difference may be the lack of certain types of jobs on reserves, jobs that people with lower levels of schooling tend to occupy (i.e. factory, apprenticeship). There was little difference between the average individual income reported on and off reserves for women with post-secondary education.

Figure 6-3: Census Families (%) by Census Family Income Groups (1995 $), 1995

Since many women have family members who also receive income and contribute to the family, it can be helpful to look at family income. A census family refers to a now-married couple (with or without never-married children of either or both spouses), a couple living common-law (with or without never-married children of either or both partners), or a lone parent of any marital status (with at least one never married child living in the same dwelling). Other women may be part of an economic family, which refers to a group of two or more persons who live in the same dwelling and are related to each other by blood, marriage, common-law, or adoption.Figures 6-3 and 6-4 reveal that the pattern of family income groups does not greatly differ between economic and census families. One difference worth noting, however, is that on-reserve Registered Indian census families have a greater percentage of families with an income less than $20,000 (43%, Figure 6-4) than on-reserve Registered Indian economic families (37%, Figure 6-3). Overall, Aboriginal economic families reported a slightly higher percentage of families with income in the higher range than Aboriginal census families.

Figure 6-4: Economic Families (%) by Economic Family Income Groups (1995 $), 1995

Of those economic families with income, families of Registered Indians, whether living on or off reserves, had the highest percentage of incomes below $20,000. The percentage of families reporting an income in the range of $20,000-$29,000 did not vary too much by ethnic designation, although on-reserve Registered Indians again reported highest in this category. Fifty percent of economic families reported an income above $40,000 for the Métis, Other Aboriginal, and non-Aboriginal populations. Economic families reporting an income of $70,000 or over accounted for only 7% of on-reserve Registered Indian families. In contrast, families in this same income group accounted for 23% of Other Aboriginal families and 28% of non-Aboriginal families.

The considerable differences between women's individual incomes and the incomes of their census or economic families provide insight into the respective earnings of family members. In order for the family income to be greater, there must be support from other family members. Dual income families raise the average income for their families, providing an advantage over lone parent families. Other differences could result from women working part-time to balance child care, or a gap in wages and salaries for men and women.


Mobility data compares two fixed points in time. A person's mobility status refers to the relationship between a person's usual place of residence on Census Day and his or her usual place of residence at an earlier point (either one or five years). A person is classified as a non-mover if no difference exists. Movers are all those who, on census day, were residing at a different address than they were on census day one or five years earlier.

Movers are further divided into two groups: migrants and non-migrants. Non-migrants are people who have moved, but reside in the same census subdivision (CSD) as they had before the move. Migrants are movers who were residing in a different CSD at the earlier point (internal migrants) or who were living outside Canada at that time (external migrants).

The variable one year mobility examines moving behaviour over the year previous to the census. Non-Aboriginal and on-reserve Registered Indian females reported the highest percentage of non-movers among females, at 85%. A similar pattern was exhibited for males. The group with the highest percentage of movers (34%) was off-reserve Registered Indians (both male and female). Approximately two-thirds of movers remained within their previous CSD (non-migrants).

The five year mobility variable also revealed different moving patterns for women of different ethnic designations (Table 7-1). On-reserve Registered Indians reported the lowest percentages of respondents who moved in the five year period, 37% of men and 40% of women. On the other hand, off-reserve Registered Indians reported the highest percentages with 66% of men and 67% of women having moved. The majority of movers for both genders and ethnic designations did not move outside of their previous census subdivision (non-migrants). For women, non-migrants represented anywhere from 53% for non-Aboriginals to 75% for Inuit of movers. The pattern of non-migrants is similar for men, ranging from 53% for non-Aboriginals to 78% for Inuit.

Table 7-1: Female Population 5+ by 5 Year Mobility Status, 1996

For women who moved from outside of their previous census subdivision (migrants), non-Aboriginal women differ significantly from their Aboriginal counterparts. Primarily due to the effect of immigration, 18% of non-Aboriginal women reported that they had moved from outside of Canada over the last five years. As one would expect, the percentage of Aboriginal women in this category was low, remaining below 3% of migrants. Inuit and on-reserve Registered Indian women reported a much lower percentage of moving from the same census metropolitan area than women of other groups. They also had the highest percentage of migrants from the same province or territory, 83% of migrants for on-reserve Registered Indian women, and 74% of migrants for Inuit women.

People are more likely to move at certain stages in the life cycle. Typically, individuals move in pursuit of education or employment opportunities, or for retirement. The necessity of moving for pursuit of education is especially pertinent to Aboriginal people living in remote areas. While distance education is becoming increasingly accessible through the use of new technologies and communicative mediums (internet, satellite systems, etc.), many Aboriginal youth still leave their communities to go to school. Figure 7-1 shows the percentage of movers in the last five years by age for the Total Aboriginal, non-Aboriginal, on-reserve Registered Indian and off-reserve Registered Indian female populations.

Differences in the pattern of movers by age for Aboriginal women are shown in Figure 7-1. In almost every group, on-reserve Registered Indian women had the lowest percentage who reported moving in the last five years. Movers ranged from 20% to 56% of on-reserve Registered Indian women across all age groups. In contrast, off-reserve Registered Indian women in all age groups were the most likely to report having moved in the past five years. Movers ranged from 34% to 84% of off-reserve Registered Indian women across all age groups.

The general shape produced in Figure 7-1 is similar for these four groups of women across ages. For non-Aboriginal women, the age group with the highest percentage of movers is those aged 25-34 (71%). Also noteworthy is the sharp drop that follows in the next age group (non-Aboriginal women aged 34-44), with those who reported moving in the last five years accounting for only 45% of that group. Registered Indian women living off reserves and Total Aboriginal women also experienced a drop in the percentage of women reporting moving between the ages of 20-34 and 35-44 of approximately 20%. Complete data for all ethnic designations can be found in Table 7-2.

Figure 7-1: Female Movers Aged 5+ (%), by Age Group, 5 Year Mobility Status, 1996