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Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. Postsecondary education holds widely-recognized benefits for both the individual as well as society. This article explores the postsecondary educational attainment of First Nations women in Canada.
The article presents data based on the 2001 and 2006 censuses regarding the postsecondary educational attainment of First Nations women aged 25 to 64, including comparisons between First Nations women and men, as well as between First Nations women and women in the total Canadian population. There are three groups of Aboriginal peoples in Canada: North American Indian (hereafter referred to as First Nations people), Metis and Inuit.
Census data for First Nations people include individuals with and without Registered Indian status, as well as individuals living on and off reserve.
In this article, comparisons are made between First Nations women and First Nations men, as well as First Nations women and the total Canadian population of women. Census data do not permit analyses of multiple degrees or studies that did not result in the completion of a postsecondary certificate, diploma or degree.
Trades: Encompasses individuals who have an apprenticeship certificate or diploma, or other trades certificate or diploma as the highest level of education they have attained.
College: Encompasses individuals who have a college, CEGEP or other non-university certificate or diploma as the highest level of education they have attained.
According to the 2006 Census, 44% of First Nations women aged 25 to 64 had completed some form of postsecondary education.
While the proportion of First Nations women with a trades credential decreased between 2001 and 2006, the overall trend indicates that postsecondary educational attainment for First Nations women has increased.
Overall, from 2001 to 2006, the proportion of First Nations women obtaining college credentials increased from 17% to 21% (see Chart 1).
The gap between First Nations women and women in the total Canadian population at the college level narrowed from 2001 to 2006. Twelve percent of First Nations women and 9% of women in the overall population had trades credentials in 2001; however, by 2006, 9% of both First Nations women and women in the total population had trades credentials. According to the Census, First Nations women were more likely to have college and university credentials than their male counterparts in both 2001 and 2006.
Conversely, a higher percentage of First Nations men had trades credentials in both 2001 and 2006. The gaps in educational attainment between First Nations women and men for college and university credentials remained relatively stable from 2001 to 2006.
In 2006, the three most common fields of study in the trades for First Nations women were health professions (25%), personal and culinary services (21%), and business (21%). Business was the most common field of study for college graduates among First Nations women (31%), First Nations men (13%), and women in the total population (35%).
The most common university degree obtained by First Nations women, First Nations men, and women in the total population was in the field of education. In 2006, the proportion of First Nations women with a postsecondary education was highest among those aged 35 to 39 (48%), whereas for women in the overall Canadian population, this proportion was highest for adults aged 30 to 34 (72%) (see Chart 3). Also, there were proportionately more First Nations women with a postsecondary education among the older age groups (35 to 39 to 50 to 54 year olds) than among the younger age groups (25 to 29 and 30 to 34 year olds). These data suggest that more First Nations women may defer their postsecondary studies until later in life compared to women in the total Canadian population. To further examine this, the educational attainment of five different cohorts of women was observed at two points in time: in 2001 and five years later, in 2006.
Table 2 shows the proportions of women with trades, college, and university credentials in each of these cohorts for both First Nations women and women in the total population.
For instance, in 2001, 16% of First Nations women aged 25 to 29 (Cohort 1) had college credentials, and by 2006 this proportion had increased to 23%.
Many factors contribute to differences in postsecondary educational attainment across regions.
In 2006, Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Ontario had the highest proportions of First Nations women aged 25 to 64 who were college graduates, at just over 25%, while Quebec was the province with the highest proportion of First Nations women with trades credentials (15%) (Chart 4).


First Nations women in Prince Edward Island (18%), Nova Scotia (14%), and New Brunswick (12%) were most likely to have a university degree, whereas First Nations women in the Northwest Territories were least likely to do so (4%). Note: The number of First Nations women aged 25 to 64 in Nunavut was too small to be analysed. Chart 5 shows the percentage of First Nations women who lived on and off reserve at the time of the 2006 Census who had trade, college or university credentials. According to these data, First Nations women living on reserve were less likely than First Nations women living off reserve (both with and without Registered Indian status) to be trades, college or university graduates. Off reserve, slightly more First Nations women who were Registered Indians had a university degree (11%) as compared to their counterparts who were not Registered Indians (9%). Chart 6 shows the postsecondary educational attainment of First Nations women who lived in (off-reserve) rural and urban areas at the time of the 2006 Census. In 2006, a higher proportion of First Nations women living in large urban areas had a university degree (13%) as compared to their counterparts who lived in smaller urban and rural areas (9% in both cases) – a finding that was also observed in the overall Canadian population.5 Urban and rural communities were more alike in terms of the proportions of First Nations women with trades and college credentials. Chart 7 shows the relationship between employment rates and highest level of education attained (i.e.
Overall, there is little difference in the employment rates of First Nations women, First Nations men, and women in the total population once education at the college and university levels is taken into account. Further research is needed to fully understand the complex relationship between education and labour market outcomes for First Nations women. Future research could also usefully explore the reasons why First Nations women tend to obtain college credentials later in life. Research by the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation has also shown that Aboriginal university and college students are, on average, older than mainstream students and more likely to be married or to have children. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Research has shown that attainment of postsecondary education increases employment and income opportunities and provides a stronger base for communities for economic and other forms of community development. While many do not complete high school, there is evidence that Aboriginal peoples return to school later in life and as such, have different pathways to postsecondary education than individuals in the overall Canadian population.2 This article provides information regarding these and other topics related to postsecondary educationnal attainment for First Nations women. Variations in First Nations women’s postsecondary educational attainment are explored across a number of socio-demographic characteristics such as age, geography, and area of residence (on- versus off-reserve; urban versus rural areas).
In 2006, an estimated 698,025 people identified themselves as First Nations people, comprising 60% of the overall Aboriginal population in Canada and 2.2% of the total Canadian population.
This article focuses on the First Nations identity population, and includes people who have self-identified as First Nations people as a single response (that is, not in combination with Inuit or Metis identity). The category ‘total Canadian population of women’ includes the entire population of women in Canada (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal). As such, a certificate, diploma or degree identified in this analysis (such as a trades certificate or a college diploma) refers to the highest accreditation attained by the respondent, according to the order listed above. For example, a person holding both a college diploma and a university degree would be counted in the ‘University degree’ category only. In addition, there was a two percentage-point increase, from 7% to 9%, in the proportion obtaining a university degree. Chart 2 shows that in 2001, 17% of First Nations women and 21% of women in the overall population had college credentials. In 2001, there was a 12 percentage-point difference in the proportions with a university degree between First Nations women (7%) and women in the overall population (19%); by 2006, this had increased to a 14 percentage-point difference (9% versus 23%). In 2006, 21% of First Nations women and 14% of First Nations men had college credentials, while 9% of First Nations women and 5% of First Nations men had university degrees (see Chart 2). For example, twice as many First Nations men had trades credentials in 2006 (18%) as compared to First Nations women (9%). In the trades, however, the gap between First Nations women and men increased over the same time period. Women with trade credentials in the overall Canadian population studied in the same top three fields as First Nations women (Table 1). Health professions, and family and human sciences, were in second and third place for both First Nations women (23% and 10%, respectively) and women in the total population (26% and 5%).


This pattern was not found among women in the overall Canadian population, where younger adults were more highly educated than their older counterparts. Since the Census is not longitudinal, this comparison does not follow the same group of women over time; however, it can provide a picture of the average experience for women in a particular cohort. Relative to women overall, the First Nations women cohorts of 25 to 29, 30 to 34, and 35 to 39 years old experienced notable gains in the proportion of college diploma completions between 2001 and 2006. This compares to a one percentage-point increase (24% to 25%) for women overall in the same cohort. While it is beyond the scope of this article to examine all of these factors in detail, a few potential factors that may explain these variations include (but are not limited to): geographic location of First Nations people, geographic location of postsecondary institutions, availability and types of programs, as well as the nature of labour markets in each region. The off-reserve data are examined by whether or not First Nations women reported having Registered Indian status.
The gap between First Nations women living on and off reserve was larger at the university level.
Urban areas have been broken down into Census metropolitan areas (CMA) which will be referred to as large urban areas and non-Census metropolitan areas (non-CMA) which will be referred to as small urban areas. According to the 2006 Census, the employment rate for First Nations women with a high school diploma was 58%, compared to 63% for those with trade credentials, 72% for women with a college diploma, and 80% for those with a university degree. However, First Nations women with high school as their highest level of education appear to face a disadvantage in the labour market when compared to First Nations men and women overall with the same level of education (with employment rates of 58%, 69% and 68%, respectively). Data from the 2006 Census shows that First Nations children tend to be raised by younger parents than non-Aboriginal children.6 Future research could explore how early childbearing may affect the path to postsecondary education for young First Nations women. Also examined are the fields of study most common for First Nations women and the relationship between postsecondary education and employment. Less than 1% of the Aboriginal identity population reported more than one Aboriginal identity in 2006.
In addition, Census data do not allow for an analysis of individuals who have taken some postsecondary education but who did not complete their program of studies.
An additional 9% had a university degree, 9% had a trades certificate, and 5% had a university certificate or diploma below the bachelor’s level. On the other hand, the proportion of First Nations women obtaining trades credentials decreased from 12% in 2001 to 9% in 2006.
The other most common fields of study for First Nations men with a college diploma were engineering technologies (11%), construction trades (11%), and mechanic and repair technologies (11%). Similarly, the proportion of First Nations women in Cohort 2 (aged 30 to 34) with a college diploma increased from 19% in 2001 to 23% in 2006; this compares to a one-percentage-point increase (24% to 25%) for women overall in the same cohort.
For example, 11% of off-reserve women who were Registered Indians had a university degree compared to 6% of their counterparts living on reserve.
This is also the case when comparing the employment rate for First Nations women and women overall with trades credentials (63% and 72%, respectively). Comparisons of Aboriginal data across Census years include only those reserves that participated in both the 2001 and 2006 censuses. As such, the education indicator used in this article, the highest level of education attained, should be interpreted with these limitations in mind.
As for First Nations women in Cohort 3 (aged 35 to 39), the proportion with a college diploma increased from 19% to 23%, while these proportions went from 24% to 25% among women overall in the same cohort.
Embracing Differences: Post-secondary Education among Aboriginal Students, Students with Children and Students with Disabilities. This shows that First Nations women obtain college credentials later in life relative to women overall.




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