Prepared by Leah F. Vosko, GWD Director
Welcome to the Gender & Work Database (GWD). In what follows, I provide a brief overview of the “GWD” by describing its six thematic modules along with its library, thesaurus, and statistical tables. At the same time, I point to the key theoretical approaches and conceptual issues underpinning its structure and design.
The GWD is suitable for researchers with varying levels of expertise and with different needs, ranging from primary analysis and testing of research questions to secondary analysis. In other words, the database can be used to obtain “basic” information on a topic or to examine a variety of complex social relations. Additionally, via its library and thesaurus, the GWD is connected to its sister website, the comparative perspectives on precarious employment database (CPD), which provides users with the resources to conduct international and comparative research and which users may also wish to explore.
The GWD is designed for straight-forward navigation. Most core segments of the site are accessible from the toolbar at the top of every page. If this is your first time using the GWD, after reading this overview you may wish to proceed first by exploring direct links to the library, thesaurus and statistics sections and take the tutorials for each. Alternatively, to move quickly into the content of the site, the modules link on the toolbar provides access to each of the subject-specific modules. Each module contains a brief description, a conceptual guide, and demonstration using statistical tables.

A Relational Approach to Gender

The GWD is informed by a feminist political economy approach, which conceives of gender as a set of social relations rather than an attribute of individuals. A relational approach to gender seeks to understand how gender relations shape, and are shaped by institutions such as the labour market, the domestic sphere, trade unions, and immigration. It is concerned with examining intersections between gender and social relations including “race”, ethnicity, sexuality, age and (dis)ability.
Taking a relational approach to gender and work is challenging on many levels – this is especially so with quantitative data. Yet, with some conscious effort, the available data (along with the absences in the data themselves) may be used to illustrate and elaborate upon key theoretical insights.

The Modules: A Rationale

The GWD is currently composed of six integrated and interactive modules on the following topics:
precarious employment
health care
unpaid work

These modules are not intended to be comprehensive; rather, they represent different entry points into the study of gender and work.

The precarious employment module maps precariousness in the Canadian labour force. It explores linkages between a number of social locations (sex/gender, age, “race”, ethnicity and disability), changing employment relationships, and labour market insecurity. This module represents the “root system” for the GWD since a relational approach to the study of precarious employment necessarily casts attention to dimensions of both insecurity and security in labour markets.
Complementing the mapping effort informing the design of the precarious employment module, the health care module takes this framework and applies it at a more focused industrial and occupational level. Ways of seeing health care – that is, the ways in which the health care industry and care-giving occupations are defined and categorized – not only affect the availability and quality of the statistical data, they are integrally related to the valuation of health care work itself. In this module, concepts related to health care work (paid and unpaid) are linked to those defining public and private care in the formal economy, the community, and the household.
From a different angle, the unions module elevates a labour market institution central to any analysis of gender and work, with attention to various indicators of gender relations, dimensions affecting union status, and social processes often neglected in the scholarly literature and absent in most published statistics. The module is organized around the theme of unions as a social movement and explores important issues flowing from this theme (such as the “union advantage,” militancy, and equity) in dynamic rather than static terms.
The migration module focuses attention on how policies and practices around migration (particularly those regulating temporary and permanent migration) organize gender and “race”, placing emphasis on how they shape, and are shaped by, household/”family” forms and employment norms. The module brings together two levels of analysis: at the level of migration policy, it considers factors affecting who enters Canada and under what conditions. At the level of the labour market, it covers topics such as labour force participation, schooling, precarious employment, and relations of distribution in households. The module addresses how gender, “race”, ethnicity and class intersect among those born in Canada, and the differences and similarities in patterns found among immigrants.
The unpaid work module probes more deeply into a subset of one of feminist political economy’s central organizing concepts – social reproduction. For a period in the 1990s and early 2000s, before support was withdrawn for the inclusion of questions on unpaid work in the national Census, Statistics Canada was at the forefront of data collection on unpaid work. To the present, social scientists in Canada have also been active in calling attention to the longstanding data gaps on this subject. Drawing together the large body of research on unpaid work and extensive Canadian data sources, this module allows researchers to probe how unpaid work is socially valued and organized, reveals the extent to which it is stratified by sex/gender, and highlights the social and economic consequences for women and men.
Finally, the technology module takes a relational approach to exploring the role that information technology plays in the organization of the labour market and in jobs that people do.  It aims to highlight how the introduction of information technology shapes both paid and unpaid labour process, to provide data on industries and occupations deemed to be “informational” and to enable users to explore how industries and occupations that are information technology-based are shaped by social relations of gender, race and immigration status as well as social contexts such as geography. Information technology is often regarded as a neutral entity that operates outside of social relations, yet through its creation and application, it enables particular types of work (paid and unpaid) and employment practices while inhibiting or eliminating others. This module provides researchers with the tools to examine how power relations mediate the role that technology plays in shifting norms of work and, more specifically, to expose processes of stratification and differentiation surrounding certain types of work.
Once again, these six modules are best understood as different entry points into the topic of gender and work. The GWD conceives of these themes, institutions, processes, practices, and critiques of dominant hypotheses as dynamic and overlapping.


One of the common dangers in multi-method research on gender and work, especially where it draws on quantitative data, is the tendency to reduce gender to a variable, rather than examining gender as a set of social relations. To remedy this problem, the GWD encourages scholars to examine gender relations by integrating a library of materials organized around a range of themes and issues, a thesaurus, and multidimensional statistical tables that researchers may customize.


Reflecting a multi- and interdisciplinary emphasis, the library contains papers, citations to papers, and links to relevant theoretical and empirical works.
As part of the library, for each module there is a conceptual guide for researchers and analytic paper(s) drawing on secondary and original library and statistical resources. Along with the thesaurus of core concepts, described below, these instruments provide both a conceptual and a technical map of the given module and the principles informing its design. To encourage critical engagement on the part of the researcher, the conceptual guide to each module identifies the strengths and weaknesses of each of the relevant survey instruments and their relationship to the literature on gender and work.
The GWD includes a tutorial on how to use the library.


Serving as a bridge between the library and statistical components, the thesaurus identifies core concepts derived from scholarship on gender and work, with particular attention to their interrelationship. The thesaurus is a shared resource that amalgamates relevant terms and concepts found in the GWD and its sister database the CPD. The thesaurus has three central functions: first, it provides a controlled vocabulary for searching the library, helping researchers link the statistical tables and the library of resources. Its second function is descriptive – that is, it describes the language of the field, and illustrates relationships between terms, concepts and ideas. Finally, its third function is prescriptive in that it seeks to communicate how creators of the GWD, as well as the CPD, understand certain ideas, and the connections between them.
The GWD includes a tutorial on how to use the thesaurus.


The design of the statistical tables allows for a relational analysis of gender and work in several ways. It enables researchers to focus in-depth on the level and form of women’s and men’s position in a given institution (such as migration), or in relation to a dominant concept or thesis (such as the feminization of employment hypothesis). Within each module, researchers are also able to examine the relationship between key variables that proxy, or stand-in for, social relationships.
The relationship between production and social reproduction is only beginning to be taken seriously by statisticians after years of interventions on the part of scholars studying gender and work; data are therefore not readily available in published sources. To fill these data gaps, each module in the GWD allows scholars to examine relationships between key variables that proxy gender relations inside and outside the labour force. For example, the precarious employment module allows researchers to examine how having children under six impacts upon engagement in temporary employment for women compared to men. The unions module, in turn, allows researchers to examine how unions play a role in shaping the social wage and explores the “union advantage” through an equity lens.
Similarly, statistical data that allow researchers to examine the relationship between gender relations and “race” and ethnicity are only beginning to be collected, and there is very little published material in this area. To address racialized sex/gender relations in the labour market, the relationship between gender relations and race-ethnic relations is fully integrated into modules, where data sources permit.
Each module also includes statistical tables that allow researchers to examine how women’s and men’s position or involvement in a given institution or set of social practices have changed over time and place. Researchers are also able to examine union status by various work contexts.
At a technical level, the statistical tables themselves have been constructed to help researchers navigate complex data- related questions and to illustrate how, and in what ways, the conceptualization process shapes, and is shaped by, data collection and organization. Just as the modules offer different paths into the data – through institutions, processes, industries, field-defining debates and leading hypotheses – there are also numerous ways that researchers may use the data in the statistical tables. For example, for the researcher conducting primary analysis, the GWD supports a variety of export formats (e.g., .xls, .csv, .ivt) that permit further manipulation with other applications.
The GWD aims to familiarize researchers with as many relevant survey instruments as possible. To this end, the statistical component draws either directly or indirectly from a number of Statistics Canada surveys. Each of the surveys used to construct the GWD has strengths and limitations. Some surveys are one-time surveys while others are conducted periodically (e.g., monthly or annually). As much as possible, the modules include data tables that are easy to update. The modules focused on Canada draw from a range of surveys that include the following:
Census of Population (CNS)
Given its large sample size, the Census provides detailed data on place/geography, immigration status, visible minority status, and income as well as industry and occupation. It is also the best source for data by region and Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) in Canada. As well, the Census asks questions on unpaid work, a development that dates to 1996, when women’s groups lobbied successfully to have questions on unpaid and volunteer work included in the survey. The Census is the primary source of data for the immigration module. The main drawback of the Census is its limited data on forms of employment.
General Social Survey on Time Use (Cycle 12)
The General Social Survey on Time Use collects diary data on individuals for a reference day; it provides data on average time spent per day on a series of activities such as paid work, unpaid work, and leisure time. The unique data from this survey are included in the unpaid work module, where they are displayed alongside the feminist political economy literature on domestic labour, social reproduction, and time use more specifically. Cycle 12 was conducted in 1998.
General Social Survey (GSS Cycles 4 & 9)
Cycle 4 and 9 of the General Social Survey is useful for the GWD because it provides indicators of both the employment relationship and gender relations in households (such as household form and unpaid work) that are critical to understanding processes of social reproduction as well as relations of distribution in households. The General Social Survey also collects data on the social locations of race, immigration and (dis)ability as well as sex/gender. Data are available for 1989 and 1994.
General Social Survey (GSS Cycle 19)
Cycle 19 of the General Social Survey, conducted in 2005, reports information on time use. The survey focuses on topics such as: commuting to work, paid and unpaid labour, and society and community; in addition to the amount of time spent on each activity.
General Social Survey (GSS Cycle 20)
The focus of Cycle 20 of the General Social Survey, collected in 2006, was family transitions. In addition to demographic characteristics such as age, sex, and marital status, this cycle documented family background and origin; homeleaving, marriages and common-law unions; fertility, family formation and maternity and paternity leave; child custody and divorce; social networks; work-family balance and work history.
Labour Force Survey (LFS)
The Labour Force Survey is one of Statistics Canada’s longstanding surveys. Its sample size is considerable (52,350 households since 1995) and it provides comprehensive information on forms of employment, unionization, wages and firm size. Its main weakness is the absence of variables pertaining to “race” and immigration status.
Survey of Self-Employment (SSE)
Conducted in 2000, the Survey of Self-Employment is an important source of data that focuses on an increasingly common form of employment in Canada and various OECD countries – self-employment. Data from this specialized survey are compatible with the Labour Force Survey, and they are included in the precarious employment and technology modules, as well as the unpaid work module since the survey yields information on the household dynamics of the self-employed by way of its detailed questions on “reasons for self-employment”.
Survey of Work Arrangements (SWA)
The Survey of Work Arrangements was conducted only in 1989 and 1995. Given its emphasis on employment relationships and arrangements, it represents a useful complement to the Labour Force Survey in the precarious employment module and provides sound data on union coverage for these years.
Workplace and Employee Survey (WES)
The Workplace and Employee Survey offers a window into the workplace- level aspects of precarious employment as well as business strategies and organizational decisions of both firms and unions. This survey also asks several questions about firms’ use of technology at the workplace that are critical to the technology module and makes novel links between unionization, work organization, sector, and industry. Its primary strength is the link it makes between workers and their workplaces.
The GWD also includes a tutorial on how to use the statistical tables.


Although the GWD has a “virtual” reality online, it is “housed” at York University (Toronto, Ontario, Canada). The initiative is made possible through the generous support of the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Innovation Trust, the Housing, Family and Social Statistics Division of Statistics Canada, and the Vice-President Research and Innovation at York University.
The GWD is a collaborative effort involving a large number of researchers studying gender and work, statisticians, librarians, and specialized technical experts at York and beyond. Please see our credits page for an extensive list of those involved. The GWD is a product of their creativity, hard work and commitment. Its ultimate success, however, depends on its use by researchers like you. With that, I welcome you to the website and encourage you to contribute to actualizing its research potential.