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Study: Low income among persons with a disability in Canada, 2014

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Released: 2017-08-11

People with a disability accounted for approximately 20% of the Canadian population aged 25 to 64 in 2014, but for 41% of the low income population in the same age group.

Among low income people aged 25 to 64 who had a disability, more than half were either unattached individuals (i.e., persons who were living alone or living with non-relatives) aged 45 to 64, or lone parents.

These results come from a new study, "Low income among persons with a disability in Canada", which examines the extent to which people with disabilities are at risk of low income.

In the study, persons were considered to have low income if their household income after tax was less than half the median income of all households, adjusted for household size. This measure is referred to as the after-tax low income measure.

The study classifies disabilities into three mutually exclusive categories: physical-sensory (affecting sight, hearing, mobility, flexibility, dexterity or pain); mental-cognitive (affecting mental health, learning, memory or development); and "combined" (affecting both of the above).

Physical-sensory disabilities were the most common type, affecting 12% of the population aged 25 to 64. About 3% had mental-cognitive disabilities, and 6% had combined disabilities.

Low income rates vary by disability type

Persons aged 25 to 64 with a mental-cognitive disability or combined disabilities were more at risk of living in low income than those with a physical-sensory disability.

In 2014, 17% of those who had a physical-sensory disability were in low income. Among those who had this type of disability, 12% of those with a "mild" disability were in low income, compared with 24% among those who had a more severe disability.

The low income rates were higher for those who had a mental-cognitive disability (27%) and for those who had combined disabilities (35%). In these two groups, the rates did not differ significantly based on the severity of the disability.

The low income rate was less than 9% among people aged 25 to 64 who did not have a disability.

Persons with a disability who are lone parents or older unattached people are more at risk of low income

People with a disability were more likely to live in a low income household when they were unattached individuals aged 45 to 64, or lone parents. More than half the people in these two groups lived in low-income households.

Consequently, older unattached people with a disability and lone parents with a disability accounted for a disproportionate share of the low-income population.

Specifically, persons with a disability who were unattached individuals aged 45 to 64 or lone parents accounted for 23% the total low-income population, but for 3% of the non-low-income population.

People aged 25 to 64 with disabilities were also more at risk of low income when they did not have a job. Among these, 4 in 10 lived in low income households, compared with approximately 2 in 10 for those who did not have a disability.

Moreover, persons with a disability were less likely to have a job. In 2014, 41% of people with a disability did not have a job, compared with 16% of those aged 25 to 64 without a disability.

Reliance on government transfers is higher among people with a disability

People aged 25 to 64 with a disability were more reliant on government transfers as a source of income, given that they were less likely to be employed.

On average, persons aged 25 to 64 with a disability earned an average of $29,300 per year in employment income, compared with $52,200 for those who did not have a disability.

Some, but not all, of that difference was offset by the fact that persons with a disability received an average of $3,100 more in government transfers, and paid $5,500 less taxes than those without a disability.

Among people with a disability, people living alone and lone parents earned less and received more government transfers than those in other family situations.

Lone parents, in particular, earned an average of approximately $9,000 less than persons in a couple relationship where both partners had a disability, despite having similar employment rates.

  Note to readers

This study primarily uses data from the 2014 Longitudinal and International Survey of Adults (LISA), as well as data from the 2013 Canadian Income Survey (CIS). Both surveys were conducted in early 2014 and linked to the 2013 tax records. The study covers persons aged 25 to 64, and excludes those living in territories, those living on reserves and other Aboriginal settlements in the provinces, and the institutionalized population. It also excludes people whose disability type could not be classified.

The disability measure used in this paper is based on the Disability Screening Questions (DSQ). The DSQ provides a measure based on a social model of disability rather than a medical model, and is based on the premise that disability is the result of the interaction between an individual's functional limitations and barriers in the environment, such as social and physical barriers, that make it harder to function on a daily basis. In the LISA, the DSQ are based on a questionnaire that identifies 10 disability types, and the DSQ are asked to all household members aged 15 and over.

Low income is measured using the after-tax low income measure, which defines low income as earning less than half the median income, adjusted for household size. The adjustment is necessary to account for economies of scale in consumption that accrue to household members.


The article "Low income among persons with a disability in Canada" is now available in Insights on Canadian Society (Catalogue number75-006-X).

Contact information

For more information, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300;

To enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Sébastien LaRochelle-Côté (613-951-0803;

For more information on Insights on Canadian Society, contact Sébastien LaRochelle-Côté (613-951-0803;

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