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Census in Brief
Does education pay? A comparison of earnings by level of education in Canada and its provinces and territories


Release date: November 29, 2017

Highlights

  • Men with an apprenticeship certificate in the skilled trades had strong earnings. With median earnings of $72,955 in 2015, they earned 7% more than men with a college diploma, 31% more than men with a high school diploma, and 11% less than men with a bachelor's degree.
  • Women with a bachelor's degree earned considerably more than women with college, high school or trades education. With median earnings of $68,342 in 2015, they earned around 40% more than women with a college diploma, around 60% more than women with a high school diploma, and about 80% more than women with an apprenticeship certificate.
  • Men with an apprenticeship certificate had faster growth in earnings from 2005 to 2015 than men at other levels of education. Women with a bachelor's degree saw faster earnings growth than women at other educational levels.
  • Among the provinces, men and women residing in Alberta had the highest earnings at every level of education.
  • Women with a high school diploma in Nunavut earned more than women with a bachelor's degree in every province and Yukon.

Introduction

Canadians complete postsecondary education for many reasons, including the desire to improve their quality of life or to pursue their passion. For many, ensuring financial security after graduation is also an important motivation. This report looks at how postsecondary education credentials pay off in earnings for working‑age men and women in the labour market. One's choice of level of education, field of study and location of work all contribute to how much one gets paid. Broader trends in the Canadian economy also have an influence on how workers with different educational qualifications are compensated for their work. To shed light on the outcomes of the Canadian educational system and to inform Canadians about their education choices, this census report presents the earnings of Canadians aged 25 to 64Note 1Note 2 with different levels of education and living in different parts of the country.

Men with an apprenticeship certificate in the trades had strong earnings

Responding to a call for more skilled‑trades workers in certain industries and regions, in recent years, the federal government has introduced measures to increase participation in apprenticeship training.Note 3 Young men have responded to job opportunities and incentives by moving into this sector. The percentage of young men with an apprenticeship certificate in skilled trades as their highest level of education increased substantially, from 4.9% in 2006 to 7.8% in 2016. The percentage of young women with an apprenticeship certificate remained low during this period.

Men with an apprenticeship certificate had particularly high earnings in 2015 (Chart 1a). This reflects the strong demand in the labour market for these workers overall. With median earnings of $72,955, they earned 7%Note 4 more than men with a college diploma, 31% more than men with high school as their highest educational qualification, and 11%Note 4 less than men with a bachelor’s degree.

In constant dollars, the earnings of men with apprenticeship qualifications were 14% higher in 2015 than they were in 2005. This growth was faster than that observed among men with all other educational qualifications.Note 5 For example, the earnings of men with a bachelor's degree grew by 6%, and those of men with a college diploma grew by 8%.

Men with an apprenticeship certificate most commonly trained to become electricians, where they had median earnings of $84,016 in 2015. The trade with the highest median earnings for men with apprenticeship qualifications was 'instrumentation technology',Note 6 where they earned $130,182. Instrumentation technicians install and maintain measuring and control instruments used in manufacturing, petrochemical and other industrial or commercial settings.

Among men with an apprenticeship certificate in Alberta, lineworkersNote 7 had the highest median earnings in 2015 ($148,156), followed by power engineering techniciansNote 8 ($147,085). Both of these trades revolve around the installation, repair and maintenance of power generation, transmission and distribution systems.

Chart 1a Median annual earnings of men aged 25 to 64 who worked full time and full year as paid employees, by highest level of education, the provinces and Canada overall, 2015

Data table for Chart 1a
Data table for Chart 1a
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1a High school diploma, Apprenticeship certificate, College diploma and Bachelor's degree, calculated using median annual earnings $ units of measure (appearing as column headers).
High school diploma Apprenticeship certificate College diploma Bachelor's degree
median annual earnings $
Canada 55,774 72,955 67,965 82,082
N.L. 50,121 73,800 71,088 83,115
P.E.I. 42,454 53,829 52,992 67,149
N.S. 48,401 60,943 59,236 72,962
N.B. 45,895 58,631 57,922 74,252
Que.Data table Note 1 48,344 53,177 61,450 75,107
Ont. 55,216 72,135 67,576 85,645
Man. 53,615 73,086 65,524 76,677
Sask. 62,199 86,059 78,176 84,825
Alta. 69,774 92,580 87,983 97,733
B.C. 59,180 75,344 69,513 77,168

Women with a bachelor's degree earned more than women with a college, apprenticeship or high school qualification

Completing an apprenticeship certificate did not result in higher earnings for women as it did for men (Chart 1b). In fact, women with an apprenticeship certificate earned 12% less than women with high school as their highest educational qualification. Women were more likely than men to apprentice in lower‑paying trades. For example, almost 3 in 10 women with an apprenticeship certificate apprenticed in 'hairstyling', and their median earnings were $34,319.Note 9 In contrast, women with a bachelor's degree as their highest educational qualification earned significantly more than women with college or high school credentials.

The earnings of women with a bachelor's degree were 58% higher than the earnings of women with a high school diploma and 41% higher than the earnings of women with college education. As such, for women, a university education is associated with a strong return on the labour market, and this was the case across Canada. Moreover, the earnings of women with a bachelor's degree increased 11% in constant dollars in the past decade. This rate is faster than the increase in earnings of women at other levels of education and faster than the increase of 6% observed in the earnings of men with a bachelor's degree.   

Chart 1b Median annual earnings of women aged 25 to 64 who worked full time and full year as paid employees, by highest level of education, the provinces and Canada overall, 2015

Data table for Chart 1b
Data table for Chart 1b
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1b High school diploma, Apprenticeship certificate, College diploma and Bachelor's degree, calculated using median annual earnings $ units of measure (appearing as column headers).
High school diploma Apprenticeship certificate College diploma Bachelor's degree
median annual earnings $
Canada 43,254 38,230 48,599 68,342
N.L. 33,382 36,031 46,358 70,994
P.E.I. 34,391 33,784 43,332 60,157
N.S. 35,025 38,547 41,188 59,551
N.B. 35,434 32,516 41,312 65,219
Que.Data table Note 1 38,487 34,436 45,081 63,305
Ont. 44,928 37,510 49,649 70,832
Man. 42,596 37,560 46,646 65,647
Sask. 44,820 42,571 51,820 73,996
Alta. 51,169 49,305 57,580 80,054
B.C. 45,563 43,327 48,353 62,985

In 2015, women earned less than men at every level of education in all provinces and territories, except in Nunavut, where women with a high school diploma as the highest level of education had earnings similar to those of comparably educated men (Table 1).

Several factors have been shown to contribute to the gender earnings gap.Note 10 One of these factors is the different fields of study from which women and men have graduated. For example, at the college level, women are more likely to graduate from low‑paying fields, such as 'administrative assistant and secretarial science' while men are more likely to graduate from high‑paying fields, such as 'engineering technology'. However, field‑of‑study difference contributes only to a portion of this gap, as men in a given field of study still tend to earn more than comparably educated women.Note 11  

Workers in Alberta had the highest earnings at every level of education among the provinces

For women and men, not only do level of education and the choice of program affect earnings, but where a person works and the state of the economy also have an impact. In Alberta, men and women at every level of education had higher annual earnings in 2015 than workers in the other provinces. This was likely due to the rise in the price of oil over the period from 2002 to 2014, which helped increase investment and production in the province's oil and gas sector and bring about subsequent growth in the demand for labour, especially in the skilled trades.

Given the strong demand, the earnings of men in the skilled trades were particularly high in Alberta in 2015: the earnings of men with an apprenticeship certificate in Alberta were close to the earnings of men with a bachelor's degree in that province and higher than those of men with a bachelor's degree in all the other provinces. However, given the fall in the price of oil that began in September 2014, the situation may have changed since these census results. Coinciding with this drop in the price of oil, other Statistics Canada labour data showed employment and earnings declines in Alberta across most sectors in 2016.Note 12

In Saskatchewan, men earned more with an apprenticeship certificate than with a bachelor's degree

High earnings among men with an apprenticeship certificate were seen not just in Alberta in 2015. Men with an apprenticeship certificate in Saskatchewan had higher median earnings than men in that province with bachelor's degrees (Chart 1a). In constant dollars, the earnings of men with apprenticeship qualifications grew by 42% in Saskatchewan from 2005 to 2015, the fastest growth rate observed among men and women in the provinces for all levels of education.Note 13 The second‑fastest growth in earnings in the provinces was found among men with a college diploma in Saskatchewan, at 31%. This group was followed by men with an apprenticeship certificate in Newfoundland and Labrador, for whom the earnings growth was 30%.

The oil boom in the decade preceding this census likely increased demand for workers in the skilled trades, and this increased demand may have led to the particularly high earnings shown here. Just like in Alberta, the situation may have changed in Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador since these census results.

Women with a bachelor's degree earned more in oil‑rich Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador than in other provinces

The oil boom of the decade preceding the census did not benefit only men in the skilled trades. Women in oil‑producing provinces with a bachelor's degree also had higher earnings. Among the provinces, the earnings of women with a bachelor's degree were highest in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador. Ontario is the only province other than these three oil‑rich provinces where women with a bachelor's degree had median earnings over $70,000.

Women with a high school diploma in Nunavut earned more than women with a bachelor's degree in every province

In Nunavut, women with a high school diploma as the highest level of education earned more than women with a bachelor's degree (as highest) in all the provinces and Yukon. For both men and women and at every level of education, workers in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories had higher earnings than workers in the provinces, and this was especially true for women in Nunavut. Workers in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories are often paid higher earnings to compensate for the isolation of working in remote locations and the higher cost of living. These 'Northern Allowances' are especially common among public sector workers, who make up a substantially higher share of employed persons in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories than in the provinces.

Chart 2 Median annual earnings of women and men aged 25 to 64 who worked full time and full year as paid employees, by highest level of education, the territories and Canada overall, 2015

Data table for Chart 2
Data table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 2 High school diploma, Apprenticeship certificate, College diploma and Bachelor's degree, calculated using median annual earnings ($) units of measure (appearing as column headers).
High school diploma Apprenticeship certificate College diploma Bachelor's degree
median annual earnings ($)
Women Canada 43,254 38,230 48,599 68,342
Y.T. 59,706 57,910 65,552 77,605
N.W.T. 75,322 76,044 84,075 104,929
Nvt. 88,064 78,080 94,571 117,888
Men Canada 55,774 72,955 67,965 82,082
Y.T. 64,789 82,125 80,595 88,387
N.W.T. 87,721 100,531 101,668 115,579
Nvt. 83,968 102,656 105,344 124,160
Table 1
Median annual earnings of women and men aged 25 to 64 who worked full time and full year as paid employees, by highest level of education and province or territory, 2015
Table summary
This table displays the results of Median annual earnings of women and men aged 25 to 64 who worked full time and full year as paid employees Highest certificate, diploma or degree, High school diploma, Apprenticeship certificate, College diploma and Bachelor's degree, calculated using dollars units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Highest certificate, diploma or degree
High school diploma Apprenticeship certificate College diploma Bachelor's degree
dollars
Women
Canada 43,254 38,230 48,599 68,342
Newfoundland and Labrador 33,382 36,031 46,358 70,994
Prince Edward Island 34,391 33,784 43,332 60,157
Nova Scotia 35,025 38,547 41,188 59,551
New Brunswick 35,434 32,516 41,312 65,219
QuebecTable 1 Note 1 38,487 34,436 45,081 63,305
Ontario 44,928 37,510 49,649 70,832
Manitoba 42,596 37,560 46,646 65,647
Saskatchewan 44,820 42,571 51,820 73,996
Alberta 51,169 49,305 57,580 80,054
British Columbia 45,563 43,327 48,353 62,985
Yukon 59,706 57,910 65,552 77,605
Northwest Territories 75,322 76,044 84,075 104,929
Nunavut 88,064 78,080 94,571 117,888
Men
Canada 55,774 72,955 67,965 82,082
Newfoundland and Labrador 50,121 73,800 71,088 83,115
Prince Edward Island 42,454 53,829 52,992 67,149
Nova Scotia 48,401 60,943 59,236 72,962
New Brunswick 45,895 58,631 57,922 74,252
QuebecTable 1 Note 1 48,344 53,177 61,450 75,107
Ontario 55,216 72,135 67,576 85,645
Manitoba 53,615 73,086 65,524 76,677
Saskatchewan 62,199 86,059 78,176 84,825
Alberta 69,774 92,580 87,983 97,733
British Columbia 59,180 75,344 69,513 77,168
Yukon 64,789 82,125 80,595 88,387
Northwest Territories 87,721 100,531 101,668 115,579
Nunavut 83,968 102,656 105,344 124,160
Table 2
Earnings advantages of obtaining a postsecondary certificate, diploma or degree among women and men aged 25 to 64 who worked full time and full year as paid employees, by highest level of education and province or territory, 2015
Table summary
This table displays the results of Earnings advantages of obtaining a postsecondary certificate Highest certificate, diploma or degree, Relative to high school, Relative to apprenticeship certificate, Relative to college, Apprenticeship certificate, College diploma and Bachelor's degree, calculated using percentage units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Highest certificate, diploma or degree
Relative to high school Relative to apprenticeship certificate Relative to college
Apprenticeship certificate College diploma Bachelor's degree College diploma Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree
percentage
Women
Canada -11.6 12.4 58.0 27.1 78.8 40.6
Newfoundland and Labrador 7.9 38.9 112.7 28.7 97.0 53.1
Prince Edward Island -1.8 26.0 74.9 28.3 78.1 38.8
Nova Scotia 10.1 17.6 70.0 6.9 54.5 44.6
New Brunswick -8.2 16.6 84.1 27.1 100.6 57.9
QuebecTable 2 Note 1 -10.5 17.1 64.5 30.9 83.8 40.4
Ontario -16.5 10.5 57.7 32.4 88.8 42.7
Manitoba -11.8 9.5 54.1 24.2 74.8 40.7
Saskatchewan -5.0 15.6 65.1 21.7 73.8 42.8
Alberta -3.6 12.5 56.5 16.8 62.4 39.0
British Columbia -4.9 6.1 38.2 11.6 45.4 30.3
Yukon -3.0 9.8 30.0 13.2 34.0 18.4
Northwest Territories 1.0 11.6 39.3 10.6 38.0 24.8
Nunavut -11.3 7.4 33.9 21.1 51.0 24.7
Men
Canada 30.8 21.9 47.2 -6.8 12.5 20.8
Newfoundland and Labrador 47.2 41.8 65.8 -3.7 12.6 16.9
Prince Edward Island 26.8 24.8 58.2 -1.6 24.7 26.7
Nova Scotia 25.9 22.4 50.7 -2.8 19.7 23.2
New Brunswick 27.8 26.2 61.8 -1.2 26.6 28.2
QuebecTable 2 Note 1 10.0 27.1 55.4 15.6 41.2 22.2
Ontario 30.6 22.4 55.1 -6.3 18.7 26.7
Manitoba 36.3 22.2 43.0 -10.3 4.9 17.0
Saskatchewan 38.4 25.7 36.4 -9.2 -1.4 8.5
Alberta 32.7 26.1 40.1 -5.0 5.6 11.1
British Columbia 27.3 17.5 30.4 -7.7 2.4 11.0
Yukon 26.8 24.4 36.4 -1.9 7.6 9.7
Northwest Territories 14.6 15.9 31.8 1.1 15.0 13.7
Nunavut 22.3 25.5 47.9 2.6 20.9 17.9

Data sources, methods and definitions

Data sources

The data in this analysis are from the 2016 Census of Population. Further information on the census can be found in the Guide to the Census of Population, 2016, Catalogue no. 98‑304‑X.

All information on the quality and comparability of census data on education can be found in the Education Reference Guide, Census of Population, 2016, Catalogue no. 98‑500‑X2016013.

Methods

The universe for this study includes both the Canadian‑born population aged 25 to 64 who obtained their highest certificate, diploma or degree in Canada and immigrants aged 25 to 64 who obtained their highest certificate, diploma or degree in Canada. For those with a high school diploma as their highest certificate, diploma or degree, the immigrant group consists of those who immigrated to Canada before or at age 15. According to the 2016 Census, Canadian‑educated immigrant men and women aged 25 to 64 with a bachelor's degree (as their highest level of education) generally had lower earnings (by 7% for men and by 6% for women) than the Canadian‑born and educated. Despite this difference, the patterns by field of study reported here do not change when Canadian‑educated immigrants are included.

The highest certificate, diploma or degree analyzed in this report includes only the following levels: high school diploma, apprenticeship certificate, college diploma and bachelor's degree. This article focuses on persons with a certificate, diploma or degree up to and including the bachelor's degree level, and excludes those with high‑earning degrees such as medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine and optometry. 'Pharmacy' (CIP 2016 code 51.2001) and 'law' (CIP 2016 code 22.0101) at the bachelor's degree level are also excluded from the analysis because those programs are not first‑entry programs like other programs compared here. For more information on 'highest certificate, diploma or degree', please see the Dictionary, Census of Population, 2016, Catalogue no. 98‑301‑X. 

To make earnings of different groups more comparable, this report presents the median earnings for paid employees who worked full time and full year (minimum 30 hours per week and 49 weeks per year) in 2015 and therefore excludes those who were self‑employed. Among both men and women educated in Canada, the percentage who worked full time and full year varied by level of education and sex. For example, both men and women with bachelor's degrees were more likely to have worked full time and full year in 2015 (63.9% for men and 51.5% for women) than men and women at other levels of education. The proportion that were self‑employed as opposed to paid employees also varied by level of education and sex. For example, women with an apprenticeship certificate were more likely to be self‑employed (16.7%) than women overall (7.1%). The difference for men was not as large: 14.9% of men with apprenticeships were self‑employed whereas this was the case for 11.7% of men overall.

There are differences in the age structure of the educational groups analyzed in this paper. When this analysis was conducted while controlling for the age differences between these educational groups, the overall results remained the same.

Random rounding and percentage distributions: 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 add up to 100%.

Because of random rounding, counts and percentages may vary slightly among census products, such as the analytical documents, highlight tables and data tables.

Definitions

Highest certificate, diploma or degree: All qualifications reported in this document are the highest certificate, diploma or degree. For example, bachelor's graduates include those who have completed only a bachelor's degree and excludes those who have completed a master's degree or an earned doctorate degree.

High school diploma: This refers to “Secondary (high) school diploma or equivalency certificate” which includes persons who have completed a high school diploma or equivalent but did not complete any postsecondary certificates, diplomas or degrees. In this paper, the short form 'high school diploma' is meant to include persons who completed a high school equivalency certificate. Examples of high school equivalency certificates are General Educational Development (GED) and Adult Basic Education (ABE).

Apprenticeship certificate or apprenticeship qualifications: These terms refer to “Certificate of Apprenticeship or Certificate of Qualification” which includes persons who have obtained a certificate, diploma or equivalent qualification in the skilled trades, obtained typically through a combination of in‑class training and on‑the‑job apprenticeship training. This category also includes persons who have obtained a journeyperson certificate in the trades through successful completion of the examinations for a Certificate of Qualification (C of Q) (with or without the apprenticeship period) as well as persons with qualifications in the trades that are higher than that of pre‑employment or entry‑level apprenticeship.

College diploma: This category refers to “College, CEGEP or other non‑university certificate or diploma” which includes college, CEGEP (collège d'enseignement général et professionnel, in Quebec) and other non‑university certificates or diplomas obtained from a community college; a CEGEP (both general and technical); an institute of technology; a school of nursing; a private business school; a private or public trade school; or a vocational school. Included in this category are teaching and nursing certificates awarded by provincial departments of education, with the exception of teachers' or nurses' qualifications obtained at university‑affiliated faculties of education or nursing.

Bachelor's degree: This category includes persons who have obtained a bachelor's degree awarded by a degree‑granting institution (for example a college or university) and who have not obtained any higher degrees, certificates or diplomas. It includes for example, Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science.

Earnings: In this paper, the wages, salaries and commissions concept is used to measure earnings. This concept includes gross wages and salaries before deductions. Earnings also include other income, such as tips, commissions and cash bonuses associated with paid employment.

Median: The median wages of a specified group is the amount that divides the income distribution of that group into two halves; i.e., the wages of half of the units in that group are below the median while those of the other half are above the median.

Please refer to the Dictionary, Census of Population, 2016, Catalogue no. 98‑301‑X, for additional information on the census variables.

Additional information

Additional analyses on the subject of education can be found in The Daily of November 29, 2017, and in the Census in Brief articles entitled Is field of study a factor in the earnings of young bachelor's degree holders?, Catalogue no. 98‑200‑X2016023, and Are young bachelor's degree holders finding jobs that match their studies?, Catalogue no. 98‑200‑X2016025.

Additional information on education can be found in the Highlight tables, Catalogue no. 98‑402‑X2016010; the Data tables, Catalogue nos. 98‑400‑X2016204 and 98‑400‑X2016240 to 98‑400‑X2016280; the Census Profile, Catalogue no. 98‑316‑X2016001; and the Focus on Geography Series, Catalogue no. 98‑404‑X2016001.

Thematic maps for this topic are also available for Canada by census division.

An infographic entitled Canada's educational portrait also illustrates some key findings on education in Canada.

For details on the concepts, definitions and variables used in the 2016 Census of Population, please consult the Dictionary, Census of Population, 2016, Catalogue no. 98‑301‑X.

In addition to response rates and other data quality information, the Guide to the Census of Population, 2016, Catalogue no. 98‑304‑X, provides an overview of the various phases of the census including content determination, sampling design, collection, data processing, data quality assessment, confidentiality guidelines and dissemination.

Acknowledgments

This report was prepared by John Zhao, Sarah Jane Ferguson, Heather Dryburgh, Carlos Rodriguez and Laura Gibson of Statistics Canada's Tourism and Centre for Education Statistics Division, with the assistance of other staff members of that division, and the collaboration of staff members of the Census Subject Matter Secretariat, Census Operations Division, and Communications and Dissemination Branch.

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