Nearly two-thirds of the adult population reported having post-secondary qualifications in 2011, according to the latest release of data Wednesday from Statistics Canada's National Household Survey, the replacement for the cancelled long-form census.
That's up from 60.7 per cent in 2006, and a stunning turnaround from the four per cent of Canadians who had a university education in 1961.
By gender, 64.8 per cent of working-age women now have a post-secondary education, compared with 63.4 per cent of men. It's the first time females have bypassed males in overall educational attainment. And the gender gap grows by leaps and bounds as the level of education increases.
Far more working-age women than men now hold university degrees — a fact especially true for the younger generation, and even more so in the field of medicine. Females make up 62.2 per cent of the adults aged 25 to 34 with a medical degree — a dramatic shift from previous generations. Among adults aged 55 to 64, only a quarter of doctors are female.
"Young women are very highly educated," said Doug Norris, chief demographer for Environics Analytics and a former senior Statistics Canada official. "It's a woman's world today."
The workplace, on the other hand, appears somewhat stuck in time.
Women overwhelmingly dominate the fields of childcare, administrative assistants, nursing and cashiers. Men comprise more than nine out of 10 workers in the fields of truck driving, carpentry, welding and electricians.
"There are still some professions that are traditionally women and still some that are traditionally men," said Sylvie Michaud, Statcan's director-general of education, labour and income.
The most common occupation for both men and women, however, is retail sales. Indeed, for the first time, the retail trade sector ranked first of all sectors for its share of total employment, surpassing manufacturing for the first time.
By comparison, in 2006, manufacturing was the top employer, and retail, while on the rise, was in second place. By 2011, manufacturing had slipped to third as a source of jobs — behind both retail and the health care and social assistance fields.
Analysts say the shift in jobs reflects the broader long-standing shift in the Canadian economy from a landscape dominated by factories to one that is known for its services.
Finding a job is closely related to level of education, the data show. Almost 82 per cent of those with university degrees had a job in 2011, compared with just 55.8 per cent of those without a high school diploma or any post-secondary qualifications.
Aboriginal Peoples appear to be gaining ground when it comes to educational attainment, although Statistics Canada is reluctant to make comparisons with the past because it has changed its methodology.
At a time when aboriginal education is a focal point for policy-makers, Statcan reports that nearly half of aboriginal people — 48.4 per cent — had some kind of post-secondary qualification in 2011. That's up from the 44 per cent reported in 2006.
Only 9.8 per cent of aboriginal people have a university degree. That's an increase from the 2006 proportion of just eight per cent. But it's substantially below the 26.5 per cent of the non-aboriginal population that has a university degree. And the gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal has definitely not narrowed when it comes to university education.
At the college level, however, the gap is quite small. About 20.6 per cent of aboriginal people have a diploma, compared to 21.3 per cent of non-aboriginal people. And the proportion of aboriginal people with a trades certificate actually surpassed that of non-aboriginal people slightly.
Immigrants, on the other hand, far surpass the general population in university attainment. In 2011, 38.1 per cent of immigrants reported having a degree, compared to 24.2 per cent of non-immigrants.
The gap has grown since 2006, when 31.6 per cent of immigrants reported having a degree compared to 20 per cent of non-immigrants. The growing gap likely reflects the federal government's policy to favour highly educated newcomers, analysts say.
The survey also shines a light on the aging of the workforce. In 2011, about 18.7 per cent of all workers were over the age of 55, up from 15.5 per cent in 2006. Similarly, 34.9 per cent of workers over the age of 55 were employed, up from 32.2 per cent in 2006.
"This is the result of the aging of the baby boom generation and the increased participation of older workers in the labour force," Statcan said.
Farm managers, religious leaders, bus drivers and taxi drivers tend to be dominated by older workers, the survey shows.
The survey also showed that when it comes to getting to work, Canadians are addicted to their cars.
Almost three quarters of Canadian commuters drive to work, while just 12 per cent use public transit. The proportion of people who walk to work has actually shrunk, from 6.4 per cent in 2006 to 5.7 per cent now. And the proportion of cycling commuters has stagnated at 1.3 per cent.
Note to readers: CORRECTS para 13 to say that only 55.8 per cent of people without a high school diploma or post-secondary qualifications had a job in 2011
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