Data on education and wages don't show systemic racism in Canada: study

Data show that many visible minorities actually out-perform white Canadians on many metrics

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An analysis of educational attainment and economic outcomes shows limited evidence of broad systemic racism in Canadian society, despite what anti-racism activists and the mandate letters from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to his cabinet might insist, according to new research from The Aristotle Foundation.

“What this study tries to do is introduce some facts and evidence and logic into trying to (assess) the accuracy of this claim that we’re a systemically racist society,” said Matthew Lau, a senior fellow with the think tank who authored the research paper.

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The paper points to weekly earnings of Canadian-born men and women in 2016. White Canadians are at the middle of the pack, earning $1,530 for men and $1,120 for women. In comparison, the average Canadian-born woman with Korean heritage makes $1,450 per week, while the average Canadian-born Black woman makes $1,080 per week. Even when controlling for various factors like education and occupation to produce more direct comparisons, the Statistics Canada data shows five minority groups that earn less than white Canadians (Black, Latin American, Filipino and “Other” racial backgrounds) and five others that out-earn whites (South Asian men, Chinese women, South Asian women, Filipino women, and Southeast Asian women.)

“If you take various minority groups, some of them earn more than the white population, some of them earn less. And that’s roughly what you would expect to see if Canada was a society that did not favour the white population,” Lau said. “If all of our institutions and the way our institutions are set up, set up on this notion that we discriminate against minorities, you would expect to see white people with the highest weekly average earnings.”

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Chart: Average weekly earnings of Canadian-born women.
Chart: Average weekly earnings of Canadian-born men.

Similar trends hold on different metrics.

About 33 per cent of Canadians hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, but those figures vary considerably among different racialized groups. For example, about 61 per cent of Korean Canadians have some level of higher education, 49 per cent of Canadians with an Arab background and 46 per cent of Filipinos. The only groups with educational attainments below the national average are Black Canadians (32 per cent), Southeast Asians (31 per cent) and “other” racialized groups (28 per cent).

In many cases, this can be explained, at least partly, by immigration: Canada heavily selects in favour of highly educated immigrants. And among groups with lower educational attainment, such as Southeast Asians, many arrived as refugees during the 1970s and ’80s.

“If we’re allowing a lot of these very highly educated people from Asian and other backgrounds, that kind of goes against this theory that we’re a society that’s discriminating against minority groups,” Lau said.

The paper also argues that many visible minorities are actually overrepresented in certain professional occupations, such as engineers and doctors, relative to their share of the population. Others, though, are underrepresented. Black Canadians, for example, make up about four per cent of the workforce but less than three per cent of Canada’s doctors, and three per cent of engineers. South Asians, meanwhile, comprise seven per cent of the workforce but 13 per cent of doctors, 12 per cent of engineers and 19 per cent of computing professionals.

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“Well, how can it be if we’re a racist society that a lot of these high-paying professions, we have a lot of minority groups over-represented in them?” Lau said.

Chart: Median employment income.

The research brief also looks at another aspect of policy that’s been accused of systemic racism: standardized mathematics testing. In Ontario, the Toronto District School Board has held a presentation on “white supremacy in K-12 mathematics education” that argued standardized testing was a form of covert white supremacy.

But, as it turns out, many racialized groups do better on math testing than white students do — at least in the Peel region, a municipality in the west and northwest of the Greater Toronto Area and from some other school boards that publish this data. Asian and Middle Eastern students are likely to show above-average math proficiency, while white students show below average proficiency, along with Latin American, Black and Indigenous students.

“Where it can be found, student test scores data are generally contrary to the notion that public schools are systemically racist against visible minorities,” the study notes.

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The study also has a section that looks exclusively at Indigenous Canadians. While, on average, they earn about $3,600 less than non-Indigenous Canadians, the figures differ between First Nations and Métis. First Nations people, on average, earn 11 per cent less than non-Indigenous Canadians, while Métis people earn about three per cent less. The study suggests this could be attributable to geographic realities as opposed to systemic discrimination.

“If the Indigenous population is more likely to live in rural areas, it’s just the case across the board that rural areas on average have lower incomes than if you live in a big city,” said Lau.

Chart: Math proficiency rate relative to average.

However, the study looks exclusively at economic and educational factors. In discussions of systemic racism, researchers often point to, for example, incarceration rates or homicide rates of Black and Indigenous populations.

“There’s many other things like incarceration rates that you can look at, but it’s very difficult to see from the evidence that we have that there is discrimination or systemic discrimination,” Lau said. “I mean, there’s always discrimination in society, but the idea that our institutions are rigged or set up in such a way to disfavour minorities, I think the evidence is not there.”

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Chart: Representation in professional occupations by cohort;.

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Originally posted 2023-10-30 20:28:38.