August 28, 2023

Weekly EconMinute—Female labour force participation rate  

In this week’s EconMinute, we’re talking about female labour force participation rate.   

In recent years, there has been a remarkable surge in the number of women with young children entering the labour market.  

Rewinding a few years to the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, women’s participation in the labour market plummeted. Economic shutdowns disproportionately impacted industries where women had a significant presence, and schools and childcare centres were closed—pushing women’s participation rate to the lowest level in decades.  

Since then, as the economy recovered post-pandemic, so did women’s labour force participation rate. But there are important differences depending on whether those women were young mothers or not. While the participation rate for women without children returned to pre-pandemic levels, the rate for women with young children not only recovered but soared past pre-pandemic levels.  

This surge in women with young children entering the labour force was particularly pronounced in Alberta. Since 2021, the participation rate for these mothers has risen a whopping eight percentage points, elevating their participation rate to almost parity with women without children. This marks a significant milestone as Albertan women with young children have historically participated in the labour force at much lower rates than women without children.  

Here’s why participation rates of women with young children are on the rise: 

  • First, while participation rates for mothers with young children were already rising before the pandemic, the rate of increase exploded in recent years as the pandemic gave rise to flexibility in the workplace.  
  • Remote or hybrid workplaces and more flexible work arrangements have become more commonplace after the pandemic, allowing women to better balance work and family responsibilities. As a result, women have flocked to the labour market. 
  • Second, in 2021, Alberta signed an agreement with the federal government that would reduce child care fees by ~50% in 2022 and work towards $10 per day child care by 2026.  
  • As child care became more affordable for families, women are more likely to leave the home and join the workforce. 

Increased female labour force participation is an achievement to be celebrated. It is good for business and society as women gain more opportunities and advancement, and organizations benefit from more diverse voices at the table.  

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