Volume 90, Issue 67

Thursday, January 23, 1997



Wage inconsistencies cited in study

By Kevin Gale
Gazette Staff

Recently-released studies show a wage gap between ethnic groups in Canada, but the truth behind the numbers is still in doubt.

Two studies, one from the University of Toronto and another from Burnaby's Simon Fraser University, used 1991 Canadian Census data to search for wage inconsistencies across Canadian born minority men and Canadian born white men.

Both studies took into account factors that might cause wage differences, such as age, occupation, education, experience and language ability.

The U of T study found south Asians and blacks earned 20 per cent and 16 per cent less, respectively, than Caucasians. Chinese men earned about five per cent less, while southeast Asians took home about 2.3 per cent less.

Mike Baker, an associate professor of economics, conducted U of T's study with colleague Dwayne Benjamin. Baker said despite the numbers, it is difficult to tell what it all means because the numbers may be inaccurate. "Some argue it's an estimate of discrimination," he said.

He added some controls not typically found in the data were used in the study, such as quality of the school the person went to or the fact ethnic people may take jobs where their boss is of the same nationality and may actually reverse the results. "These kinds of data are rarely available in data sets. [The study] is at best an upper bound estimate of discrimination," Baker said.

At Simon Fraser, Krishna Pendakur, an economics professor, co-conducted a similar study and found an eight per cent gap. However, he too said until further related studies are done, the statistics are only a starting point. "It leaves behind the expectation there is some kind of important discrimination practices in labour markets," he said. "It's still something we know very little about."

More subtle reasons for people getting a job cannot be accounted for in these studies, Pendakur said. "Things like how smart they are or how they look – things that are important if you are observing a situation."

"We were disadvantaged," he said, adding the data had 16 categories for occupations but did not break the categories down by specific job description.

He added because the samples are of Canadian born men, the study shows traditional arguments regarding immigration as a reason for wage discrimination – such as their inability to assimilate into Canadian culture or grasp the English language – may be false.

However, Pendakur said finding a gap will help legislators be able to look at future policies on discrimination practices with an idea some discrimination may exist.

Census data was used in the studies because it is the largest source of information with the most controls available, despite an inability to account for small nuances between people, Pendakur said.

Baker said the next step is to do comparisons across North America, but United States comparisons have the similar problems in that they also cannot account for cultural enclaves – a system where people of similar cultures live and work together – that exist in society and the effect they have on wage levels.

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Copyright The Gazette 1997