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Are women really better off in Canada’s labour market?

Office workers enjoy the sunshine as temperatures rose to 19c at Canary Wharf in London.

There's been a fair bit of focus on the labour market differences between men and women lately with Friday's jobs numbers the latest to highlight a slight gap. It showed that jobs growth among women was slightly stronger than men in June, underscoring a growing trend.

But just how far females have come in the labour market remains unclear. To be sure, there have been advances and there are more women working than three decades ago, but various factors including the demographics of a increasingly older male-dominated workforce may serve to make the gains seem less rosy than they really are.

We know that employment picture has gotten better for women between 25 and 34, over the past three decades, at least compared to men, mostly recently reflected in two separate jobs-linked reports published this week.

"It reinforces the point that job growth has been slightly stronger for women than men in recent years," says Doug Porter, chief economist of BMO Capital Markets, adding, "I wouldn't say there's been a huge difference."

However, there may soon be. The National Household Survey released recently showed that women dominated at university campuses, edging ahead of men in medicine and master's programs to boost job prospects. The survey showed continued improvement in female representation in the labour market, yet it remains abundantly clear that women are still lagging at c-suite level.

If the numbers are showing that women are edging in the workforce, demographics plays a role. As Baby Boomers enter retirement age, men are leading the way out the door, while women have entered at an increasing pace. That is one of the reasons that it appears women may be better off.

That drop off in the male Boomer workforce can distort things, as there were a higher share of men working in that generation than women, says Porter.

Another key factor is the relentless weakness in Canada's manufacturing sector. Manufacturing is typically dominated by men, estimated to comprise about three quarters of all workers. So the decline in manufacturing has played a key part in reducing the job prospects of younger men who are trying to find a job.

"The decline of this male-dominated sector likely contributed to worsening employment outcomes for young men," says Erin Weir, an economist with the United Steelworkers, though resource jobs offset this effect in oil-producing provinces. "The takeaway is men are worse off."

As a pure number play, there's no doubt female job growth has edged male job growth, but there are a number of issues at play. If one were to factor those back in, would the picture look any different is a question that comes to mind.