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Canada women exit workforce

Might imperil economic growth

OTTAWA, Ontario - Krystyna Recoskie, expecting her third child in July, says she’s done with full-time employment.

The 37-year-old wants to spend more time with her kids, so she’s cut back her hours to a couple of shifts a week as a cardiac sonographer at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa.

“Some people want to be at work, but I want to be there to pick up my kid from the bus stop,” she said. “I just wish that some moms wouldn’t judge me and think that I am throwing away my career.”

The choices of people such as Recoskie may spell trouble for Canada and other economies with aging workforces, which have been supported in recent decades by women who broke social barriers to join the labor market. The long-term economic growth trend in Canada will slow because female participation in the workforce has probably crested, says economist Peter Jarrett of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“We have been living off the fact that steadily more young women were entering” the labor force, said Jarrett, who covers Canada for the Paris-based OECD. “That process looks very much to me like it’s over,” he said, calling the trend disconcerting.

The percentage of women ages 25 to 54 who are working or looking for work – the participation rate – was 81.8 percent in April, down from 82.9 percent in December 2012, the federal statistics agency said.

While that share had risen from 52.0 percent in 1976 when Statistics Canada records began, it has been little changed for about a decade. Female participation remains below the 90.3 percent level for men in the same age group, Statistics Canada figures show. It also remains above the 73.9 percent rate for U.S. women in the same age group.

Younger women are thinking differently about their career paths than prior generations did, said economist Frances Woolley of Carleton University in Ottawa. The pursuit of higher education and a desire to balance work and family responsibilities may limit how much younger women want to be in the paid workforce.

“Women’s and men’s attitudes to the labor market are in many ways formed in their 20s and early 30s,” Woolley said. “The younger cohort has a different attitude towards work than their mothers.”

“I know that my daughter, even though she expects to work for pay, doesn’t have quite such an idealized view of what it means to be a career woman as I did,” said Woolley, 50.

For Erica Ehm, a former broadcaster at Canada’s MuchMusic network who now runs, a website about motherhood, achieving flexibility in the work world is key.

“Women are looking at the realities of what they are giving up by going into the workforce,” said Ehm, citing issues such as commuting time and the cost of child care – which has risen 40 percent in the past decade according to Statistics Canada data, twice as fast as total inflation.

Longer parental leaves help keep women more attached to the Canadian labor market than in the U.S., where the participation rate for core-age women, those aged 25 to 54, has been declining since 2008. The leave policy, and a milder recession during the global financial crisis, means Canada’s rate will stay above U.S. levels, says Tammy Schirle, associate economics professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, who studies women and work.

“The Canadian labor market since 2008 has been very different than the U.S.,” she said.