By Claire Zillman
July 3, 2017

As Canada turned 150 years old this weekend, Fortune published a story on why the United States is finally showing its northern neighbor some love. One reason cited by contributor Diane Francis is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s exertion of “soft power” around the globe. But Americans should applaud another Canadian trait: 82.2% of women there, between ages 25 and 54, were working or looking for work in 2016, compared to 74.3% in the U.S.

The Wall Street Journal breaks down how the two nations’ female labor forces mirrored one another following World War II as women took up jobs outside the home, “boosting household incomes and national production, while opening new opportunities for women themselves.” Women’s labor force participation rate in both countries reached close to 76% two decades ago.

But in the late 1990s, those trend lines diverged, with female workforce participation slipping in the U.S. as it climbed higher in Canada.

While economic conditions could factor into the relatively high share of Canadian women who work, the implementation of female-friendly policies could also be at play, according to the Journal:

Canada’s federal government encouraged more two-working parent households in the late 1990s and early 2000s by cutting tax rates, adding support for child care and expanding paid parental leave. Quebec’s provincial government introduced universal day care.

Some economists argue that implementing such policies is not a sure-fire way to increase women’s participation in the workforce and, in turn, to boost the overall economy.

But it is worth noting that International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde specifically called out Canada’s “rapid progress in female labor force participation” in a speech last year.

It “was no accident,” she said. “[I]t reflects deliberate and targeted policy measures.”

@clairezillman

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