The impression that anglophones in Quebec are a rich, privileged minority took a hit last week with the release of a Statistics Canada (StatsCan) report showing that English-speakers have a lower median income than francophones with the same qualifications.
The 122-page report, released September 23, describes demographic trends among Quebeckers for whom English is the first language. According to 2006 Census data, anglophones have a median income of $1,806 less than francophones. Among men, the gap was about $3,900 and among women it was approximately $2,200.
The report’s findings do not paint a picture of total francophone economic domination in the province, however. A wealthy minority exists within the anglophone community, skewing their average income data upwards – anglophones’ total average income is $3,080 higher than that of francophones.
Anglophones also have a higher poverty rate – by six per cent – than francophones, dragging their median income results down. A median is the numeric value separating the higher half of a sample from the lower half.
Factors influencing the disparity in average income between the language groups include age, education, region, and type of employment. When controlling for these variables, the StatsCan report found that average income of anglophone men is still $1,900 lower than for their francophone counterparts. An anglophone woman earns $300 less than her French-speaking counterpart.
The report detailed specific factors that have affected this dramatic turnaround in income status.
“On the one hand, the major changes that Quebec society has undergone since the Quiet Revolution have considerably improved the status and socioeconomic position of francophones within Quebec society,” explained the report, authored by Jean-Pierre Corbeil, Brigitte Chavez, and Daniel Pereira. “On the other hand, the departure of many anglophones from the province during the 1970s, along with the arrival of a growing number of international immigrants, many of them from developing countries, have affected the demographic, ethnic and socioeconomic makeup of this language group.”
The majority of migrants to Quebec are English-speaking – 33 per cent of the anglophone population is made up of immigrants, compared to only 7 per cent of the French-speaking population – and inflows of foreign migrants contribute to higher poverty rates among anglophones.
“Numerous studies have already shown that, despite a higher education level, immigrants have a higher unemployment rate and lower income levels than their Canadian-born counterparts,” said the report, titled “Portrait of Official-Language Minorities in Canada – Anglophones in Quebec.”
Perhaps more significant, however, has been the mass exodus of wealthy anglophones to other Canadian provinces. Historically, lack of employment, fears over separatism and an uncertain political future, and unfavourable language legislation have driven anglophones out of the province. Indeed, the biggest wave of emigration occurred between 1976 and 1981 – the Parti Québécois’s first term in office – when 151,308 Quebec anglophones emigrated, according to StatsCan. From 2001 to 2006, the anglophone population faced a net loss of 16,005 people to other provinces. Almost a quarter of anglophones aged 18 to 24 intend to move away from Quebec within the next five years.
“[Quebec] changed a lot between, say, 1950 and 1990 as a result of deliberate policy measures,” said William Watson, a Senior Research Fellow at Montreal’s Institute for Research on Public Policy, and a McGill Economics professor.
“Many of those policy measures were distasteful to a lot of English people, so they left. So it’s a case of social engineering, really. There is an argument that these [demographic] changes might have taken place without the pro-francophone policies being brought into place…but I think the probably more convincing argument is that the policies themselves have had some effect.”
Watson also said he doubted whether this study will have an impact on the public discourse about anglophones and on policy decisions, at least for the moment.
“A result like that has to be repeated many times to become part of public awareness, to have an influence on people’s thinking,” he said.