Study: Impact of widowhood and divorce on income replacement among seniors, 1983 to 2007

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The extent to which family income was maintained in old age—that is, income replacement—was lower among women who became divorced after age 55 than among those who became widowed after that age. However, both groups had lower income replacement rates than women who remained married.

In contrast, the impact of divorce or widowhood on income replacement was smaller among men.

This study analysed whether Canadians who became widowed or divorced later in life and remained so had more difficulty maintaining their family income as they aged. It used data from Statistics Canada's Longitudinal Administrative Databank to compare the family income of married people at ages 54 to 56 with the family income of always married, widowed, or divorced or separated people at age 78 to 80. These comparisons took into account changes in family size.

Women who remained married had a median family income at age 78 to 80 that was 83% of their family income at age 54 to 56. Among women who became widowed after age 55, the ratio was 79%, while among those who became divorced or separated, it was 73%.

The impact of divorce or widowhood varied between women from higher and lower family income brackets.

Among the 20% of women at the top of the family income distribution at age 54 to 56, those who remained married had a family income at age 78 to 80 that was 74% of their family income 25 years earlier. For widows, family income fell to 65%, and for divorcées, it fell to 53%.

Among the 20% of women at the bottom of the family income distribution at age 54 to 56, family income was higher at age 78 to 80 than it was 25 years earlier for all marital status groups. This means that, at least in terms of income maintenance, the effects of widowhood and divorce were smaller at the bottom of the income distribution.

The impact of divorce or separation was greatest among women from higher-income families among whom investments and private pensions were an important source of income. In contrast, the reliance on public-pension income tended to reduce the impact of marital dissolution on income maintenance among women in lower-income families.

Among men, separation or divorce had little affect on income maintenance in old age. Widowhood even increased the economic resources of some men because a similar family income was shared across fewer family members.

Income maintenance outcomes were similar among cohorts who were aged 54 to 56 in 1983 and in 1993. However, the findings may or may not hold among subsequent generations of seniors.

Note to readers

This study calculated the impact of divorce and widowhood on income 'replacement rates.' These rates show the extent to which family income at a given point during the working years is 'replaced' in old age. Since this study is concerned with economic well-being, after-tax family income from all sources is used, with family size taken into account.

The research paper "Income Replacement Rates Among Canadian Seniors: The Effect of Widowhood and Divorce" part of the Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series (Catalogue number11F0019M2012343, free), is now available from the Key resource module of our website under Publications.

Highlights of the findings of this paper are available in the article "What Are the Impacts of Late-life Widowhood or Divorce on Income Replacement Rates?" part of the Economic Insights series (Catalogue number11-626-X2012010, free), from the Key resource module of our website, under Publications.

Similar studies from the Social Analysis Division are available online (

For more information, contact Statistics Canada's National Contact Centre (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 613-951-8116;

To enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Sébastien LaRochelle-Côté (613-951-0803), Labour Statistics Division.