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Pension Coverage and Retirement Savings of Canadian Families, 1986 to 2003

by René Morissette and Yuri Ostrovosky
Business and Labour Market Analysis Division
Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series, No. 286


Previous Canadian studies documenting trends in private pension coverage have focused on individuals and thus have been unable to assess whether Canadian families are better-prepared for retirement now than their counterparts were in the past. It is important to fill this gap and to examine how pension coverage and retirement savings of Canadian families have evolved since the mid-1980s.


This paper analyze the degree to which Canadian families are covered by private pension plans and document how their savings for retirement have evolved over the last two decades.


The study finds that two-parent families, lone-parent families and other individuals located in the bottom quintile of the earnings distribution are not better prepared for retirement than their counterparts were in the mid-1980s or the early 1990s. On the other hand, those located in the top quintile are better prepared than their counterparts were in the mid-1980s or the early 1990s. As a result, Canadian families' preparedness for retirement, which was fairly unequal in the mid-1980s, has become even more unequal over the last two decades. This finding has important implications for the future. Recent research has shown that the maturation of the Canada and Quebec Pension Plans (CPP/QPP) has led to a substantial reduction in income inequality among the elderly between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s. In the absence of offsetting trends, the growing inequality in Canadian families preparedness for retirement implies that that the distribution of family income among seniors should become more unequal in the years to come.

Data source(s)

The study uses the data of several Surveys: Labour Market Activity Surveys (LMAS) of 1986 to 1990 and the Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics (SLID) of 1993 to 2003, Longitudinal Administrative Databank (LAD) of 1986 to 2003, the Assets and Debts Survey (ADS) of 1984 and the Survey of Financial Security (SFS) of 1999.

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