The Writers’ Union of Canada has released the results of its most recent income survey of the country’s writers. Called Devaluing Creators, Endangering Creativity: Doing More and Making Less – Writers’ Incomes Today, the survey’s title is a stark indicator of its bleak findings, which include a disparity of 45 per cent between the earnings of men and women.
“It’s maybe not surprising that there’s an income gender gap for writers, since there certainly is one in the general population, but the size of the gap shown in our survey results staggered us,” says TWUC executive director John Degen. “The gender split in terms of survey respondents is 68 per cent women. Women are the majority in TWUC’s membership and probably in the sector, and yet they receive 55 per cent of the income their male counterparts do? That’s shocking.”
The data, which was garnered from 947 participants, also indicates that nearly half of writers consider themselves to be working harder to earn a living today than four years ago, and that they’re making 27 per cent less (with inflation) than they were in 1998, when the union last conducted a similar survey. For 81 per cent of respondents, their income from writing falls below the poverty line – a drastic statistic, considering that almost 90 per cent of those polled have an undergraduate degree, and half have a master’s or PhD. The average income from writing was found to be $12,879 yearly, and the median net income less than $5,000. This is in comparison to the average annual Canadian income of $49,000.
“Essentially half of the respondents made less than $5,000 from their writing in 2014. Of course, half made more than $5,000, and some made considerably more, so while it is still technically possible to make a living from one’s writing in Canada, it’s possible for a small percentage only,” Degen says.
He also confirms that the trend, unfortunately, isn’t limited to Canada.
“We are very disappointed but not particularly surprised that incomes are in decline, as we’ve had strong evidence of similar trending from our international partner organizations in the U.K. and U.S. In fact, our percentage decline is almost exactly that of both those markets as well,” he says.
The positive side? Degen says the survey sheds light on the plight of Canadian writers, who can now support their claims of low income with facts, hopefully resulting in efforts to change the current landscape.
“Really, the only good news coming out of this report is the fact that we now know the anecdotal evidence we’ve had about this cultural emergency is backed up by the numbers,” he says. “Is there a viable Canadian writing and publishing sector if Canadian writers can’t make a living, or anything even close to a living, in it?”
TWUC has outlined goals to ensure all writers are fairly compensated for their work and all contracts properly represent the value of writers’ work, and to keep support programs and grants properly protected and funded to attempt to reverse the patterns in these results.