The Unpaid Intern Economy Rides on the Backs of Young Women

Female-dominated industries make heavy use of unpaid internships

Ryan Stuart/moodboard/Corbis

In 2012, says the Atlantic, 53% of recent graduates were out of work or underemployed. These rates, for under- and unemployment among new college graduates, are the highest they've been in decades. And true "entry level" jobs seem to be disappearing—the first-rung workforce being widely replaced by unpaid, or cheaply paid, interns.

These internships have become a stepping stone, difficult to skip over, on the career path. And because they require unpaid labor, they can limit who has access to better-paying jobs: a person who can't afford, because of debt or family obligations, to work for free, will have a much harder time later on being hired for a full-time, paying job.

The prevalence of unpaid internships varies by industry, though they are particularly common in “entertainment, media and journalism,” says the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, citing a yet-to-be-published survey by “two researchers at the University of Victoria and the Canadian Intern Association.”

Overall, unpaid internships are particularly concentrated in industries that tend to employ a higher proportion of women. The result is that the bulk of the unpaid intern workforce is comprised of young women. Of the people who responded to the researchers' survey, says the CBC: “Most of the interns who participated were female, given many of the industries routinely using them are female-dominated, said Seaborn.”

This disparity, says Claire Seaborn, president of Canadian Intern Association, “just means a 22- or 23-year-old female is a lot less likely to be paid in their first few jobs than a young male. That's really problematic."

Of the survey respondents, says the CBC, “83 per cent reported earning less than the provincial minimum wage or nothing at all.”

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