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A Comparative Analysis of Racial and Ethnic Stratification in the US and Canada Essay

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Updated: Nov 25th, 2019


United States (US) and Canada share many political, economic, and social ties. Both countries have also experienced similar changes in their immigration policies as they have welcomed immigrants as permanent residents in their countries. Starting from the early sixties, and gradually through the century, both the US and Canada have changed their immigration policies to allow all racial groups as immigrants into their countries.

Previously, both countries only allowed Europeans and Whites as the only acceptable immigrant groups (Abada 2). The consequence of the adoption of this immigrant policy is the increased immigration of “people of color” into both countries. Conversely, many Canadian and US cities have a mixture of different racial groups.

Underlying this racial diversity is a soft underbelly of racial stratification that exists in both countries. This stratification emerges in different forms, including the unequal distribution of resources, unequal employment opportunities, and unequal education opportunities. This paper explores these issues by comparing the racial stratifications in the US and Canada by focusing on how racial stratification occurs in the educational and workplace contexts.

Comprehensively, this paper argues that Canada and the US share similar racial stratifications in their workplace contexts, as white employers in both countries negatively stereotype racial minorities. Consequently, this situation forces many workers from racial minorities to work in low status and low-paying jobs.

Unlike the employment sector, there is a difference between America and Canada’s racial stratification profiles in the education sector. From this understanding, there is less racial stratification in Canada than the US (in the education sector). Considering the existence of inequalities in the access to economic opportunities and wealth, racial stratifications in Canada and the US will continue for long time.


Albeit there has been increased awareness about racial stratification in the workplace, racial minorities still experience several discriminating practices in the workplace. In the US, Chima (1) believes that the unique discriminating practices that affect African American workers are not the same as the challenges affecting Caucasians.

Cultural insensitivity, oppressive attitudes, and oppressive policies in the workplace inform these discriminating practices. Based on the findings that appear in this section, evidently, people of African descent living in America and Canada experience the same racial stratification in the workplace, which forces them to work for low-level and low-paying jobs.

Nonetheless, racial stratification in the American workplace often appears to be accidental, but it is not. Human resource managers who have a negative stereotype about some racial minorities (like African Americans) always contribute to the high number of racial minorities who work in low status or low-paying jobs. For example, Chima says,

“In the total American population, three out of seven employees hold white-collar positions, whereas the ratio is only one of seven for African Americans. They occupy over 50 percent of the nation’s jobs as garbage collectors and maids, but only 4% of the nation’s managerial positions” (3).

The above statement characterizes the norm that influences the working experiences of many workers who hail from racial minority groups. Certainly, racial prejudices undermine the potential experience and qualifications for better-paying jobs for some of these workers. These prejudices keep some of these workers in low-paying and low-status jobs. Another factor that contributes to this phenomenon is the impact of word-to-mouth communications in excluding racial minorities in the workplace.

Since many of the employers are white people, they only tend to tell their white friends about potential job opportunities, thereby limiting the awareness of racial minorities regarding the existing job opportunities (Borowczyk-Martins 1). Nonetheless, for the few racial minorities that secure employment, their wages and salaries do not compare to the earnings of the majority race (whites).

Statistically, O’Neill (2) says that racial minorities in America earn up to 25% less than what their white counterparts earn. This earning differential exists, although both racial groups may have similar qualifications.

Relative to this statistic, O’Neill adds, “After controlling for human capital characteristics, South Asian men earned about 2% less than White men, but for Blacks, this gap was around 21%” (2). This earning differential is even greater for women in the workplace. This wage differential stems from the economic discrimination that happens in the workplace.

Comprehensively, employer prejudice in the US is therefore significantly strong because Banerjee (6) estimates that about 78% of white employers in America are prejudicial against black workers, for example. This situation prevails even after the US enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which criminalizes the discrimination of workers because of their race, gender, or religion (O’Neill 2).

The Canadian situation is similar to the American situation because Banerjee (6) says there are many racial inequalities in the Canadian workplace. This view stems from previous studies that established a greater sense of racial discrimination in the workplace among “visible minorities” in Canada (as the US). A few researchers conducted some studies in Toronto and said that Canadian employers treated the qualifications of potential employees from different racial groups very differently (Banerjee 6).

One finding that emerged from this study is the fact that potential white employees received more job offers than potential employees who may have African roots. Further studies showed that many employers eliminated the candidacy of potential Asian and African employees whenever they received a call from the candidates regarding potential job offers (Banerjee 6).

The same studies showed that there was a strong sense of racial stereotyping among Africans working in Canada (Banerjee 6). The above claims stemmed from earlier studies that reported extensive racial discrimination in about half of the working African population in Canada.

Most racial minorities in Canada also work in low-paying jobs (like the American situation). The evidence for this claim stems from an assertion by Banerjee (6) about how most racial minorities in Canada have low earnings, compared to white employees. Moreover, Banerjee (6) asserts that racial minorities in Canada hold very few managerial and professional positions in employment. The few racial minorities who hold managerial positions are mainly self-employed (Banerjee 6).

The social cognitive theory, which posits that many employees normally categorize their colleagues as either in-groups or out-groups, may explain the racial stratification in Canada and America (Banerjee 5).

The social cognitive theory posits that from the establishment of the racial categorizations, people have a strong tendency to exaggerate the differences that exist between them and the majority group (while minimizing the differences that exist among them as the majority group). These categorizations further increase the stereotypes and biases towards certain racial groups (Banerjee 5).


Ogbu (264) says there is notable racial discrimination that goes on in America, despite the existence of laws that prevent such incidences. Ogbu (264) says this racial stratification in education occurs because the comprehensive removal of educational barriers has not happened. In other words, the government has removed the barriers to providing educational opportunities, but other barriers that affect educational achievement exist.

Nonetheless, Ogbu (264) says three ways define the way racial stratification affects educational opportunities in America. One way is through discriminatory societal practices that limit the opportunities for racial minorities to gain access to quality education within the country.

A second way that racial stratification affects the educational experiences of racial minorities stem from its influence in the treatment of racial minorities in schools. The last way racial stratification affects the quality of education for racial minorities stem from the perception that the racial minorities hold towards their educational experiences (Ogbu 264).

Comparatively, the Canadian educational system has a less intense racial stratification than the American educational system. For example, Abada and Hou (1) say most racial minorities have achieved an upward mobility in education, regardless of their family background and social or ethnic capital.

However, some racial minority groups have exhibited better educational progress than other racial minority groups. For example, African immigrants have a slower upward mobility when compared with Asians (Abada and Hou 1). The same is true for Filipino students in Canada because Abada and Hou (1) say Filipinos also have a lower upward mobility in education when compared to other racial minorities like the Chinese and Koreans.

Nonetheless, there seems to be an insignificant racial stratification in the Canadian educational system because there is little difference between the performance of white students and the performance of “other” students from racial minority groups (Abada and Hou 1).

Future of Racial Discrimination

Some observers see Canada as a relatively less racially stratified society. This observation does not, however, imply that there are no racial stratification attributes about the Canadian society. However, compared to America, Canada is less racially stratified and more tolerant towards minority races.

For example, Brym and Lie (162) say, about 77% of the white majority population in Canada hold a favorable view about immigrants, while only about 44% of the white majority population in America holds the same view about immigrants in America. The rate of racial and ethnic stratification also appears to be declining more in Canada than the US.

Even though racial minorities have made tremendous progress in improving their welfare (both in America and Canada), the racial stratifications that exist in most aspects of the Canadian and American Societies (such as education and employment), make it difficult to ignore the possibility that racial stratification may continue to exist for a long time. Brym and Lie support this claim, in the Canadian context, by saying “if the current trends continue, Canada’s mosaic may continue to be stratified mainly along racial lines” (162).

Brym and Lie further say, “Unless something drastic happens, some groups may continue to enjoy more wealth, income, education, good housing, healthcare and other social rewards than other races do” (162). Since America appears to have a poorer racial stratification record than Canada, it is correct to infer the above statement to the American context as well.


After weighing the findings of this study, it is possible to see how racial stratification affects the most important aspects of the Canadian and American societies – education and employment. Albeit in different proportions, Canada and America still practice racial stratification in these sectors.

Both countries especially have very similar racial stratifications against racial minorities in the employment sector. Certainly, many racial minorities in both countries earn relatively low wages compared to their white counterparts, regardless of the qualifications and experiences that they have. Similarly, racial minorities in both countries tend to work in low-paying and low-status jobs. Therefore, very few racial minority workers hold managerial and professional positions in both countries.

The same situation replicates in the education sector because racial stratification has affected the performance of racial minorities in education. Canada, however, seems to fare better than the US in this regard because there is a relatively lower performance differential between racial minorities and other races in Canada. In fact, this paper highlights the evidence regarding how some racial minority students perform better than white students do.

Comparatively, racial minorities in America still have a long way to catch up with the exemplary performance that is characteristic of many white students in America. The influence of race and class stratification outlines part of the reason for the significant differences in the performance of white students and “other” students in the American education sector. When these stratifications intertwine, they have a strong impact on the quality of education offered to students in the US.

Therefore, albeit Canada and the US share some similarities in racial stratification, the intensity of these stratifications may differ in other sectors that affect the economic and social well-being of their societies (like health).

Therefore, while both countries seem to exhibit serious concerns regarding racial stratifications, the degree and intensity of these stratifications may differ across different social and economic sectors. Nonetheless, so long as Canadians and Americans hold on to traditional racial stereotypes, racial stratification may continue to exist for a long time.

Works Cited

Abada, Teresa and Feng Hou. “Ethnic Differences in Educational Attainment among the Children of Canadian Immigrants.” Canadian Journal of Sociology 34.1 (2009): 1-24. Print.

Banerjee, Rupa. An Examination of Factors Affecting Perception of Workplace Discrimination, Toronto: University of Toronto (Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources). Print.

Borowczyk-Martins, Daniel. Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Labor Market: Employment and Wage Differentials by Skill, Bristol: University of Bristol. Print. Brym, Robert, and J. Lie. SOC+, London: Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.

Chima, Felix 2013, African Americans and the Workplace: Overview Of Persistent Discrimination. 2013. Web.

Ogbu, John. “Racial Stratification and Education in the United States.” Teachers College Record 96.2 (1994): 264-98. Print.

O’Neill, June. What Do Wage Differentials Tell Us About Labor Market Discrimination, Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research. Print.

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