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In Canada, the fading union movement is a male phenomenon

Louella Vincent (left) and Sue Munn of the Hospital Employees’ Union walk in solidarity with other community living workers from various unions that include CUPE, BCGEU and HEU outside the Richmond Caring Place in Richmond, B.C.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

A dwindling proportion of men are members of labour groups, a shift that's driving declines in Canada's unionization rate in recent decades as rates for women have held steady.

The country's rate of unionization (the proportion of workers who are union members) was 30 per cent last year, down from 38 per cent in 1981. Most of that decline happened in the 1980s and 1990s, Statistics Canada analysis shows, with rates stabilizing in the past decade.

Men used to be more likely to belong to unions, but that has changed. In 1981, the proportion of men in unionized jobs was 42 per cent; by last year, that had tumbled to 29 per cent. By contrast, women's unionization rate has hovered around 30 per cent for the past 30 years – leaving them now more apt to be unionized than men. (See chart, here.)

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Unionization rates are rising among 45- to -64-year-old women, which may reflect their growing numbers in health care and education. Rates are falling among men of all age groups. And young people are far less likely to be unionized than in the past.

In general, "full-time work, longer job tenure, large firms, higher educational attainment and better wages were all associated with higher unionization rates," said Statscan analysts Diane Galarneau and Thao Sohn.

Total unionization rates haven't budged much in the past decade, but there are shifts within industries. The rate has fallen in goods-producing industries, such as manufacturing, while it has risen, a little, on the services side. The services sector now has a higher rate of unionization than goods-producing industries, a reversal from a decade ago.

Unionization rates are rising in management and administration support, along with public administration. They're falling in forestry, factories and transportation. Education had the highest unionization rates last year, while agriculture had the lowest.

Alberta had the lowest unionization rates in Canada, at 22 per cent last year, while Newfoundland and Quebec had the highest, at 38 and 37 per cent, respectively. Unionization has declined in all provinces in the past three decades.

Statscan's study draws on information from its labour force survey and earlier data sources.

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About the Author

Tavia Grant has worked at The Globe and Mail since early 2005, covering topics from employment and currency markets to trade, microfinance and Latin American economies. She previously worked for Bloomberg News in Toronto and Zurich, writing on mining, stocks, currencies and secret Swiss bank accounts. More

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