This site makes use of cookies. By continuing, you consent to this use. More information.
THEMES  ·  Who we are  ·  How we live  ·  How we work  ·  How we learn

Between 1986 and 2016, women's participation in Fort St. John’s labour force increased from 61% to 71%. What are the implications of increasing labour force participation by women for the community?


Labour force participation is a key indicator of activity in the local economy. The labour force participation rate in Fort St. John is consistently higher than the provincial rate, and the gap between the two has been steadily increasing over time.

Between 1991 and 2016, labour force participation in Fort St. John was relatively stable ranging from 78 to 80%. Fort St. John saw a 2.2% percentage point decrease in male labour force participation, which was offset by a 3.7% percentage point increase in the female labour force participation to 71%. In 2016, the gap between male and female labour force participation rates in Fort St. John was 14.7%. Although this gap is sizeable, it was 26.6% in 1981. The gap has been closing as more women enter the labour force in Fort St. John.

Between 1991 and 2016, BC’s total labour force participation decreased from 67.5% to 63.9%. A 7.9% percentage point decrease in male labour force participation drove the decline in BC’s total rate, even as more women entered the workforce (+4.2% percentage point).

Labour force participation, percentage of population, Fort St. John, 1981-2016
Source: Statistics Canada. 1981-2016. Census Program.
Note: Census 1981 does not provide data for total labour force participation.


A high labour force participation rate reflects a strong local economy, one where people are confident about finding work. Higher labour force participation, especially with more and more women entering the workforce, increases total family income, and subsequent posts will address changes in income levels in Fort St. John.

Having more people in the labour force also increases demand for social services. For instance, when parents with young children enter the labour force, there is an increase in the need for child care spaces. As more women enter the labour market, flexible working arrangements also become more important. Flexible working arrangements are particularly important for female-led lone parent families.


Increased participation of women in the labour force coincides with the diversification of employment in Fort St. John, such as increased numbers of people employed in natural resource sectors, health care and social assistance, public administration, management, and education. In a subsequent post we will examine these shifts and trends in employment in greater detail.

Employment Connections in Fort St. John offers a range of programs and support services for people who are looking for work. It provides single parents on income assistance with tuition and living supports, daycare support, and wage subsidies to employers. Employment Connections also provides self-employment services such as business plan development and implementation for individuals looking to start their own business.

The CDI’s Community Indicators Program will be looking at both the labour force participation rate as well as the availability of licensed child care spaces.


While more women have been entering the workforce in Fort St. John, there remains a gender pay gap. Despite long-term changes in society, the 2016 census reported that there was a 70% difference in the median income of men and women in Fort St. John. How can the community help identify and breakdown barriers for people seeking access to higher paying jobs?


As with most other communities in Canada, there is a difference in the pay of men and women, commonly known as the gender pay gap.

In Fort St. John, the gender pay gap has decreased over time. In 1981, the median income of men in Fort St. John was 98% greater than the median income of women. Whereas, in 2016, the median income of men was 70% greater than that of women.

Part of the reason that women tend to make less than men is that many women are working in lower paying occupations. In 2016, the largest proportion of women (31%) are employed in sales and services occupations, while the largest proportion of men (38%) are employed in trades, transport, and equipment operators and related occupations.

Historically, the median income for women in Fort St. John has been less than provincial and national levels. However, in 2011, the median income for women in Fort St. John surpassed provincial and national levels. Between 2006 and 2011, the median income for women in Fort St. John increased 35%, from $23,440 to $31,573. This is attributable, at least in part, to the growth of women in the education, health, and social sectors.

Median total income, Fort St. John, 1980-2015
Source: Statistics Canada. 1981-2016. Census Program.


The considerable difference in the incomes of men and women means that women tend to have less disposable income and financial independence than men. As household median incomes have increased in Fort St. John, the cost of living has also risen. Many single women and women-led lone parent families are economically disadvantaged. This can increase the numbers reliant upon government assistance and other social programs.


Between 2006 and 2011, the proportion of women working in occupations related to education, law, and social, community and government services saw a 5% increase to 15% of the female labour force. These are higher paying occupations than sales and service. The shift in women’s occupations is connected with new opportunities emerging with the growth in population, which has resulted in the construction of new schools and the Fort St. John Hospital.

It is worth noting that, during this time, there was a 5% decrease in sales and service occupations to 31% of the female labour force. The relationship between changes in employment and income levels underscores the importance of improving education and employment opportunities for women. In the Census data, the year 2011 marked the first time that median incomes for women in Fort St. John exceeded provincial and national levels.

The Fort St. John’s Women’s Resource Society is a volunteer-driven not-for-profit organization that provides support groups, educational workshops, resources, and social programs for women. It has been serving low-income and vulnerable women for the past 25 years.


In 2016, the median total income for census families in Fort St. John was $104,366. This was higher than the median total incomes for census families in British Columbia ($89,709) and Canada ($89,562). Median incomes in Fort St. John have grown over time. In 1981, median income was $79,174. What are the implications of high median incomes for all income groups (high and low) in Fort St. John?


Median income is a measure how strong the local economy is, as incomes are tied to the types of employment opportunities that are available in a community, such as the oil and gas and forestry sectors in Fort St. John.

In 2016, the median income in Fort St. John was 15% higher than BC. In 1991, there was only a 4.6% difference between median incomes in Fort St. John and BC, which illustrates how much incomes in Fort St. John have risen compared to the province.

Between 1991 and 2016, there was a 32% overall increase in median family incomes in Fort St. John. Family incomes have generally risen; however, economic downturns in 1986 and 2016 were reflected in the declines in median family incomes in Fort St. John.

Median total income of economic families, 1990-2015
Source: Statistics Canada. 1991-2016. Census Program.


Although sector specific data is not available from Statistics Canada, the higher median incomes in Fort St. John are attributable, at least in part, to employment in the oil and gas sector, which includes many highly paid positions.

Generally, high median income contributes to a higher cost of living. Fort St. John is no exception to this. The high costs of living in Fort St. John are reflected in the high rental costs. In 2016, the median rental cost for a 2-bedroom was $1,205, which is one of the highest in the province. For low-income families and those on fixed incomes, this upward pressure on costs is a challenge.


The high level of income presents opportunities for businesses that focus on non-essential products and services, such as leisure and recreational products and services including recreational vehicles and sporting goods. For households with sufficient income to consider owning a home, the cost of homeownership is relatively low, as compared to the rest of the province. These were among the reasons Fort St. John was ranked by BC Business magazine in 2015 and 2018 as the best city to work in.


Statistics Canada uses After-Tax Low Income Cut Offs (LICO-AT) as an indicator of the most economically disadvantaged individuals in the community. In 2016, just over 2% of people over 64 years of age were counted under the LICO-AT in Fort St. John. For adults (18-64 years), only 4% were counted under the LICO-AT. How can the community continue to support economically disadvantaged individuals and households?


Statistics Canada uses After-Tax Low Income Cut Offs (LICO-AT) as an indicator of the most economically disadvantaged individuals in the community The LICO-AT calculation is defined as those families that would spend 20% more of their after-tax income on food, shelter, and clothing than the average family spends. Because LICO-AT is calculated based on Census responses, it does not include homeless individuals, only those with fixed addresses.

Compared to the province as a whole, Fort St. John has a lower share of the population reporting low incomes. In 2016, just over 2% of people over 64 years of age were counted under the LICO-AT compared to 6% for BC. For adults (18-64 years), only 4% were counted under the LICO-AT compared to 12% for BC.

Prevalence of low income based on LICO-AT, Fort St. John and British Columbia, 2015
Source: Statistics Canada. 2016. Census Program.


Even though local economy is strong, there continues to be a population that is economically disadvantaged living in Fort St. John. Low-income households are more likely to be struggling with housing affordability, and some are living pay cheque to pay cheque. Strategies are needed to help people avoid situations where they are forced to make a choice between food and rent, or where they may be vulnerable to evictions that destabilize lives for children and the entire family.

Programs and services designed to assist low income households must take into consideration the complex challenges they face. For example, ensuring that there is access to training and education programs for those who express a desire to pursue better employment needs to be accompanied by programs that remove barriers to participation. These programs could include, for example, free child care and transportation subsidies.


The CDI Programs and Services Inventory lists the numerous community and government programs available to residents of Fort St. John. These include services focused on training, education, and child care support, as well as food bank and shelter programs. There are also a number of provincial programs for Fort St. John residents who become unemployed or are economically disadvantaged, such as seniors living on fixed incomes and the growing off-reserve Indigenous population.


Fort St. John’s economy, while led by the energy sector and the jobs it supports, also has other strong sectors including healthcare, social services, education, manufacturing, retail trade, and tourism. This diversity is attributable, in part, to St. John’s growing role as a regional hub. How can the community work to grow each of its economic sectors and continue to diversify into the future?


While the oil and gas sector remains vitally important to the local economy, other industries and economic sectors have grown in recent years. Between 1996 and 2016, there was significant growth in the natural and applied sciences, from 140 to 880 workers. In that same period, strong growth was also shown with the number of people employed in education and law, as well as social, community and government services, which increased from 475 to 1,080. While these occupations grew the fastest, the occupations that employ the most workers in Fort St. John have consistently been in the trades and sales and service sector.

However, there has been movement in terms of the largest industries in Fort St. John. In 2001, mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction was the largest economic sector with 1,265 workers, followed by the retail trade and construction sectors with 1,085 and 1,015 workers respectively. In 2016, the construction industry employed the largest number of workers with 1,540 workers, while oil and gas extraction was the second largest employer with 1,420 workers and retail trade was third with 1,395 workers. Between 2001 and 2016, two industries doubled in size, namely, manufacturing and the professional, scientific, and technical services. These changes reflect economic diversification that is occurring in Fort St. John.

Labour force by industry, Fort St. John, 2001-2016
Source: Statistics Canada. 1991-2016. Census Program.


Fort St. John has emerged as a regional economic hub, which means that the community must be able to offer a high quality of life to a diverse population with a wide range of backgrounds, expectations, and incomes.

As a regional hub, Fort St. John is attracting new highly skilled technical and professional public sector and industry jobs. In addition to attracting these workers, employers and the community must also develop strategies to retain them. Factors that have been identified as making a difference include access to professional development and networking opportunities, access to high-quality K-12 education and opportunities to enroll in professional and technical post-secondary programs for their children, and job opportunities for the second adult in the family who may also be looking for a professional or technical position.

Fort St. John is also attracting new retail and service sector businesses as a regional hub. For workers in these sectors, the ability to earn a wage that is sufficient to cover the cost of living will be a primary consideration. The experience of other communities where the cost of living has outpaced service sector wages is that these workers leave town. This hurts the sector and many small, local business owners.


The oil and gas sector remains central to the local economy, with some of the largest employers (e.g., Shell Canada Ltd. at 300 workers and Enbridge at 150 workers). Other industry employers include Canfor with 175 workers and Peace Valley OSB with 101 workers. However, as indicated above, other sectors are also quite important to the Fort St. John economy. In the public sector, there are several large employers. School District 60 is one of the largest in Fort St. John with 745 workers, while Northern Lights College employs 100 people, and the BC Oil and Gas Commission has 120 workers. In the retail sector, Walmart and Canadian Tire, combined, employ 225 workers.

NAVIGATION: Events · Themes · Research · About Us · Contact Us

Located in the City of Fort St. John's Passive House, behind the old fire hall.
9904 94th Street, Fort St. John, BC V1J 1T4 · 250-261-9917 · ·