Data sources, methods and definitions

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Data sources

Data from the 1999 and 2012 Survey of Financial Security (SFS) were used in this study. The SFS is a voluntary survey that collects information from a sample of Canadian families on their assets, debts, employment, income and education. Information is collected on the value of all major financial and non-financial assets and on the money owing on mortgages, vehicles, credit cards, student loans and other debts.

The SFS covers the population living in the 10 provinces. Excluded from the survey coverage are persons living on reserves and in other Aboriginal settlements in the provinces; official representatives of foreign countries living in Canada and their families; members of religious and other communal colonies; members of the Canadian Forces living on military bases or in military camps; and persons living full-time in institutions, for example, inmates of penal institutions and chronic care patients living in hospitals and nursing homes.

The analysis in this study is restricted to families with some level of debt. Individual characteristics such as age and education reflect those of the major income earner of the family.


Family refers to the economic family, defined as families of two or more people living in the same dwelling, related by blood, marriage, or adoption, or who are living common-law, and single people (unattached individuals) who are living either alone or with others to whom they are unrelated.

Total debt pertains to total family debt and includes mortgage debt on the principal residence and all other real estate (Canadian and foreign), and consumer debt.

Consumer debt includes debt outstanding on credit cards, personal and home equity lines of credit, secured and unsecured loans from banks and other institutions including vehicle loans, and other unpaid bills.

Total assets pertain to total family assets and include real estate (principal residence and all other real estate), employer pension plans (on a termination basis) and all other assets (including RRSPs, RESPs, RRIFs, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, vehicles, household possessions, bank accounts, collectibles, accumulated value of family businesses, and other financial and non-financial assets).

Income quintiles are based on the total income of the economic family adjusted for family size (i.e., divided by the square root of the family size).

Debt-to-income ratio is obtained by dividing total family debt by the after-tax income of the family.

Debt-to-asset ratio is obtained by dividing total family debt by total family assets.

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