Gender Ratios on First Nations Reserves in Canada


First Nations women and men migrate off (and on) First Nations reserves at different rates and at different ages, and these differential flows may result in gender imbalances on reserves. We document significant gender imbalances in favor of men and show that nearly 50% of First Nations reserves have male-female gender ratios greater than 1.5 compared with only 5% of non-reserve communities. Divergence in gender ratios on reserves begins around the ages of 15 to 19 and persists well into late adulthood. We examine how this gender imbalance varies by age, geographic location, and economic environment.


Les femmes et les hommes des Premières Nations migrent hors (et vers) les réserves à des taux et à des âges différents, ce qui peut entraîner des déséquilibres entre les sexes. En effet, nous documentons d'importants déséquilibres entre les sexes dans les reserves en faveur des hommes et montrons que près de 50% des réserves des Premières Nations ont des ratios hommes-femmes supérieurs à 1,5, comparativement à seulement 5% des communautés hors réserve. La divergence entre les sexes dans les réserves commence aux alentours de 15 à 19 ans et persiste jusqu'à la fin de l'âge adulte. Nous examinons comment ce déséquilibre entre les sexes varie selon l'âge, la situation géographique et l'environnement économique.

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  1. 1.

    Community is equivalent to census subdivision in our data.

  2. 2.

    We use the term reserve to encompass both Statistics Canada’s definitions “Indian reserves” and “Indian Settlements.”

  3. 3.

    While Gerber (1984) has proposed that gender ratios on reserves are both a cause and a result of differential rates of migration, they do not provide gender ratio distributions for reserves.

  4. 4.

    Dyson (2012) also proposes several causes for unbalanced gender ratios including son preference, differential mortality of men and women at older age groups, and sex-specific labor market migration.

  5. 5.

    Now Indigenous Services Canada and Indigenous-Crown Relations Canada.

  6. 6.

    In total, this linked to 122 distinct service center communities indicating that many First Nations share the same service center. Service centers are non-reserve communities, towns, or cities that are the nearest population center for a particular First Nation reserve.

  7. 7.

    In both data sets, population counts greater than 10 are randomly rounded up or down to the nearest 5. For example, a count of 69 women could be either rounded to 65 or 70. All data are aggregated by gender for each community. Below 10, population counts are rounded to the nearest 5. In some specifications, we have fewer observations than most because we break down communities into finer age groups. Because of random rounding, some age groups have an observation of zero and thus are excluded from the sample. We also limit population sizes in each community to be over 120 people in order to avoid having counts below ten in estimates since these results could be heavily influenced by rounding.

  8. 8.

    The census must be answered by law and gives the most accurate count available of the population in Canada by gender and age available. The long-Form Census in 2001 and 2006 is part of the Census of the Population and asks a broad set of questions on topics such as education and income and ethnic ancestry. The long form was distributed to 20% of the population in most locations and the community profiles aggregate this data and weight it to estimate the true population counts at the community level. However, in some locations, such as Indian Reserves and Settlements and Northern Communities, 100% of the population was required to complete the long form. In 2011, the census long form was replaced by the voluntary National Household Survey (also part of the Census of Population). In most areas, 33% of the population was invited to participate in the National Household Survey. On Indian Reserves, Settlements, and in Remote areas, 100% was invited to participate. The response rate for the long form was approximately 95% and the response rate for the National Household Survey was approximately 69%.

  9. 9.

    This includes Indian Settlements, Indian Reserves, Indian Government districts, Nisga’a Land, Nisaga’a village, Terre inuite, Terres réservées, Village cri, Teslin land, Terres réservées aux Naskapis, Terres réservées aux Cris, and Village Naskapi. Note that in principle, there could be multiple reserves in one census subdivision or reserves that span across subdivisions. It is also important to note that a single First Nation may be associated with numerous reserves or numerous First Nations associated with one reserve.

  10. 10.

    Communities with less than 40 people have their data suppressed and are not included in the data files. Thus, communities included in the data will change over time.

  11. 11.

    The census has multiple categories for classifying the indigenous populations including both ancestry and identity definitions. We use the term First Nations here, but the census language is North American Indian (Statistics Canada 2013).

  12. 12.

    The weights are constructed by taking the total population of the census subdivision divided by the total population.

  13. 13.

    Appendix Table 7 provides the frequency of First Nations Reserve size and neighboring city sizes. Approximately 40% of all First Nations Reserves in the census data are smaller than 340 individuals.

  14. 14.

    Although, as shown in Table 3, the proportion of the variation in the dependent variable (gender ratios) explained by the total of all independent variables for those between the ages 15 and 19 is very small. The estimated coefficient on First Nations reserve variable, however, is statistically significant at conventional levels.


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Correspondence to Donna Feir.

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This work complies with ethical standards for use of Canadian Census data.

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The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.



Table 6 Effect of outliers on OLS regression coefficients in Table 2
Table 7 Distribution of communities by size

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Akee, R., Feir, D. Gender Ratios on First Nations Reserves in Canada. Can. Stud. Popul. 47, 213–227 (2020).

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  • Gender ratios
  • Divergence
  • First Nations