Labour force participation, race and sex

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Participation rate of those aged 20 to 64 by racial identity and sex, 2016

What is this metric and why is it important?

Labour force statistics not only tell us about the health of the economy generally, but also provide insight into who is participating, who is excluded, and who is benefitting. We investigate this here by looking at the portion of the population who is in the labour force (those who are working or actively looking for work) by racial identity and sex.

How is Canada doing?

  • In 2016, excluding those who identify as Indigenous, those who identify as Arab, West Asian, and Korean had the lowest labour force participation rates, at 70.2%, 71.5%, and 73.2% respectively.
  • The low participation rates of those who identify as Arab, West Asian, and Korean is largely driven by the low participation rate of women in those groups. 
  • Overall the participation rate for women is 9.1 percentage points lower than the rate for men.
  • In 2016 the Indigenous labour force participation rate was 75.8% compared to the non-Indigenous labour force participation rate of 85.7%. First Nations had the lowest labour force participation rate of all racialized groups at 67.5%.

Metric discussion

Data broken up by racial identity and sex is from the 2016 census, which defines the labour force as consisting of persons who contribute or are available to contribute to the production of goods and services.

For Statistics Canada, racial identity is composed of two distinct dimensions: visible minority and Indigenous identity. Those counted as visible minorities are “persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour." Those considered visible minorities are then broken into further categories. It should be noted that by "sex", Statistics Canada refers to biological sex and not gender. 
While the innovation economy is not the economy at large, the distinction is often murky and ill-defined. Given the broad definition we use for the innovation economy, the participation rate in the larger economy gives a reasonable indication of the employment rate in the innovation economy. Differences across jurisdictions speak to the extent to which people have access to employment opportunities and the accompanying income and benefits.


Unlike the employment rate, the unemployment and participation rates rely on definitions of “the labour force”—i.e., the employed and those looking for employment. A limitation of this approach is that it can be difficult to define what it means to be someone who wants to work.

The aggregation of different groups into the category of “not a visible minority” makes certain comparisons difficult.  Additionally, the lack of a distinct category for those who identify as “White” or “Caucasian” impairs analysis. 

© Inclusive Innovation Monitor 2021