Insights on Canadian Society
Debt and assets among senior Canadian families

by Sharanjit Uppal

Release date: April 3, 2019

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Overview of the study

Using data from the Survey of Financial Security (SFS), this article looks at changes in debt, assets and net worth among senior Canadian families over the period from 1999 to 2016. It also examines changes in the debt-to-income ratio and the debt-to-asset ratio of senior families with debt.

  • In 2016, the proportion of senior families with debt was 42%, up from 27% in 1999. The proportion with mortgage debt almost doubled from 8% to 14%, and the share of those with consumer debt increased from 24% to 37%.
  • Among senior families with debt, the median amount of debt was $25,000 in 2016, up from $9,000 in 1999 (expressed in 2016 constant dollars). The median level of assets held by these families also rose, from $327,000 to $607,400 (in 2016 constant dollars).
  • Around two-thirds of the total increase in the debt of seniors was attributable to an increase in mortgage debt. With regard to assets, real estate assets contributed to more than one-half of the overall increase in the value of seniors’ assets.
  • The net worth of a family corresponds to the total amount of assets, minus the total amount of debt held by family members. In 2016, the median net worth of senior families with debt was $537,400, up from $298,900 in 1999.
  • Between 1999 and 2016, the median debt-to-income ratio for senior families with debt more than doubled from 0.24 to 0.52. However, the debt-to-asset ratio changed little, from 0.05 in 1999 to 0.06 in 2016.

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Introduction

The proportion of the Canadian population aged 65 and over has been on the rise over the past few decades, especially during the 2000s. In 1971, individuals aged 65 and over comprised 8% of the Canadian population.Note  In 1999, this proportion was 12%, and by 2017 it was nearly 17%. It is projected to increase further, to 24%, by 2036.Note  As a result of population aging, there is a growing body of research related to Canadian seniors. Recent studies have looked at their labour market activity,Note  income replacement rates,Note  time use,Note  and life satisfaction.Note  This study adds to the body of research by examining the economic well-being of seniors as measured by indebtedness.

Household indebtedness, for the population as a whole, has risen over time. This is possibly due to factors such as easier access to credit, rising house prices and consumerism. The ratio of household debt to personal disposable income doubled from 86 in the first quarter of 1990 to 176 in the last quarter of 2018.Note  This implies that, on average, households owed $1.76 for every dollar of income at the end of 2018. Policymakers have been concerned by this high ratio, particularly in relation to rising house prices and anticipated increases in interest rates.

Given that household debt has been rising over time, it is likely that a greater proportion of individuals are entering their retirement years carrying debt. Debt can be particularly problematic for seniors as repayment can be more difficult on a reduced income. Existing Canadian studies related to household debt have mostly focused on the adult population as a whole.Note  One study focusing on older individuals (retired and aged 55 and over) used 2009 data.Note  Since then, the economy has been characterized by record-low interest rates and rising house prices, two factors that can greatly affect a household’s balance sheet.

Debt values, however, must be understood in relation to assets. For instance, mortgage debt is backed by an asset—the value of the house. If the value of assets is fairly large in relation to the debt a household carries, a high debt-to-income ratio is not necessarily synonymous with financial stress. Hence, the purpose of this article is to look at both debt and assets, and to provide a profile of the net worth held by Canadian seniors.

This paper focuses on all families with debt whose major income earner was 65 or over.Note  Using data from the Survey of Financial Security (SFS), this study examines debt and asset indicators over the period from 1999 to 2016 across demographic characteristics such as age, education, family structure, home ownership and family income (see the section Data sources, methods and definitions). In addition, it looks at two key indicators of indebtedness: the debt-to-income ratio and the debt-to-asset ratio (for a discussion on income, see the section Sources of family income among senior families). All numbers in this article are expressed in 2016 dollars using the Consumer Price Index (All Items) as a deflator.

More than 4 in 10 senior families had debt in 2016

In 2016, the proportion of senior families with debt was 42%, up from 27% in 1999 (Table 1).Note  The share with mortgage debt almost doubled, going from 8% to 14%, while that with consumer debt increased from 24% to 37%. These proportions and changes over time, however, varied across family characteristics.


Table 1
Percentage of senior families with debt, 1999 and 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Percentage of senior families with debt 1999, 2016, Any debt, Mortgage debt and Consumer debt, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
1999 2016
Any debt Mortgage debt Consumer debt Any debt Mortgage debt Consumer debt
percent
Senior families with debt 27.4 7.7 24.3 42.0Note * 13.9Note * 37.4Note *
Sex of major income earner
Male 31.1 9.4 27.4 45.4Note * 15.9Note * 40.1Note *
Female 22.7 5.5 20.3 37.8Note * 11.4Note * 34.0Note *
Age of major income earner
65 to 69 41.5 13.5 37.9 58.2Note * 22.7Note * 51.5Note *
70 to 74 28.2 8.0 24.9 47.8Note * 15.2Note * 42.3Note *
75 to 79 22.2 4.8Note E: Use with caution 18.9 38.2Note * 10.8Note * 35.3Note *
80 and over 11.6 2.1Note E: Use with caution 9.7 20.1Note * 4.5 17.6Note *
Highest level of education of major income earner
Less than high school 25.3 5.0 23.3 33.8Note * 10.0Note * 30.1Note *
High school diploma 27.5 11.6 23.2 41.6Note * 13.0 37.2Note *
Non-university postsecondary certificate or diploma 29.2 8.6Note E: Use with caution 24.7 47.8Note * 15.1Note * 43.5Note *
University degree or certificate 35.0 13.6 30.0 48.0Note * 19.4 41.3Note *
Family structureTable 1 Note 1
Unattached individual 20.0 3.9Note E: Use with caution 17.6 33.2Note * 9.1Note * 29.6Note *
Male 21.1 4.8Note E: Use with caution 18.7 35.4Note * 9.2 30.5Note *
Female 19.5 3.6Note E: Use with caution 17.2 32.1Note * 9.1Note * 29.1Note *
Couple, no children 30.5 9.4 26.5 46.3Note * 16.5Note * 40.8Note *
Other family types 45.5 15.5Note E: Use with caution 42.2 66.6Note * 26.1 60.6Note *
Immigrant status of major income earner
Immigrant 25.3 10.4 21.4 37.6Note * 15.5Note * 32.8Note *
Canadian-born 28.0 6.9 25.1 43.5Note * 13.3 38.9Note *
Home ownership statusTable 1 Note 2
Owners with a mortgage 100 100 57.5 100 100 67.5
Owners without a mortgage 21.6 1.4Note E: Use with caution 21.3 35.7Note * 3.2Note * 34.4Note *
Non-owners 23.5 Note F: too unreliable to be published 23.2 31.5Note * 0.4Note E: Use with caution 31.4Note *
Labour force status of major income earner
Employee 60.6 27.3Note E: Use with caution 54.9 66.9Note * 30.9 61.8
Self-employed 37.1 21.7Note E: Use with caution 29.4Note E: Use with caution 62.6Note * 30.1 53.8Note *
Not in the labour force 26.1 6.5 23.2 37.9Note * 11.0Note * 33.6Note *
Family income quintile
Bottom quintile 21.9 3.8Note E: Use with caution 20.6 35.9Note * 8.7 31.9Note *
Second quintile 23.1 4.4Note E: Use with caution 20.5 33.0Note * 8.4Note * 29.3Note *
Middle quintile 29.2 7.2Note E: Use with caution 25.6 44.9Note * 13.1Note * 40.3Note *
Fourth quintile 32.6 11.9 28.2 47.7Note * 18.1Note * 43.3Note *
Top quintile 30.2 11.3 26.5 48.5Note * 21.1Note * 42.0Note *
Province or region of residence
Atlantic 45.0 8.3 41.0 50.8 13.2 47.9
Quebec 27.5 6.5Note E: Use with caution 26.6 40.1Note * 11.4Note * 36.0Note *
Ontario 25.2 7.9 22.3 41.0Note * 13.4Note * 36.9Note *
Manitoba 18.9 4.5Note E: Use with caution 16.2 38.8Note * 12.9 34.5Note *
Saskatchewan 21.2 Note F: too unreliable to be published 20.0 29.6 10.5Note E: Use with caution 25.9
Alberta 24.3 8.8Note E: Use with caution 20.0 46.4Note * 19.9Note * 40.0Note *
British Columbia 28.7 10.4 21.6 44.4Note * 18.0Note * 37.1Note *

Senior families in younger age groups were more likely to be in debt. For example, in 2016, families whose major income earner was between the ages of 65 and 69 were nearly three times more likely to have debt than families whose major income earner was at least 80. Among the first group, about 6 in 10 (58%) had debt, while among older seniors aged 80 and over, 1 in 5 (20%) had debt.

Working seniors were also more likely to have debt than non-working seniors, which suggests that working seniors, due to higher incomes, have a higher capacity to borrow. However, it is also possible that older workers who still have debt are staying in the labour market longer in order to pay it off. The likelihood of having debt also increased with the level of income. Close to one-half of seniors in the top income quintile had debt compared with slightly more than one-third of those in the bottom quintile. Other studies have also found a positive relationship between debt and income, as higher income families have a higher capacity to borrow.Note 

Other types of families who were more likely to have debt included families whose major income earners were males, families with higher levels of education, Canadian-born families, and “other” family types (that did not consist of a couple or an unattached person).Note  At least half of senior families residing in Atlantic Provinces had some debt (51%), compared with 30% of senior families in Saskatchewan.

Between 1999 and 2016, the percentage of seniors with debt increased for all categories of senior families. However, the increase was faster in some cases. As a result, even though the associations between various personal characteristics and the likelihood of holding debt were similar in 1999 and 2016, there were quantitative changes. For example, in 1999, the proportions of families with debt among those aged 65 to 69 and 80 and over were 42% and 12%, respectively, a gap of 30 percentage points. By 2016, this gap widened to 38 percentage points. Similarly, the gap between the top and bottom income quintiles increased from 8 percentage points in 1999 to 13 percentage points in 2016.

Both debt and assets recorded significant gains between 1999 and 2016

The focus of the paper now shifts to senior families with debt. In 2016, the median amount of debt held by senior families with debt was $25,000 (Table 2), up from $9,000 in 1999 (expressed in 2016 constant dollars). The median level of assets held by these families also rose, from $327,000 to $607,400 (in 2016 constant dollars).


Table 2
Median debt and assets, senior families with debt, 1999 and 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Median debt and assets Median debt, Median assets, 1999, 2016 and Change, calculated using 2016 constant dollars units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Median debt Median assets
1999 2016 Change 1999 2016 Change
2016 constant dollars
Senior families with debt 9,000 25,000 16,000Note * 327,000 607,400 280,400Note *
Sex of major income earner
Male 13,800 30,000 16,200Note * 408,700 682,400 273,700Note *
Female 4,700Note E: Use with caution 20,000 15,300 198,200 489,400 291,200Note *
Age of major income earner
65 to 69 13,300Note E: Use with caution 35,500 22,200 403,400 668,300 264,900Note *
70 to 74 10,400 21,000 10,600 278,600 657,000 378,400Note *
75 to 79 5,500Note E: Use with caution 25,000 19,500 253,900 576,200 322,300Note *
80 and over F F F 256,000 449,200 193,200Note *
Highest level of education of major income earner
Less than high school 4,800Note E: Use with caution 20,000 15,200 237,300 310,900 73,600
High school diploma F 19,000Note E: Use with caution F 357,200 472,600 115,400
Non-university postsecondary certificate or diploma 10,100Note E: Use with caution 23,000 12,900 360,700 609,900 249,200
University degree or certificate 26,300Note E: Use with caution 46,100Note E: Use with caution 19,800Note E: Use with caution 766,700 1,164,700 398,000Note *
Family structureTable 2 Note 1
Unattached individual 3,500Note E: Use with caution 13,000Note E: Use with caution 9,500 179,700 301,000 121,300Note *
Male F 12,200Note E: Use with caution F 259,800 315,200 55,400
Female F 13,800Note E: Use with caution F 163,700 279,000 115,300
Couple, no children 13,800 35,000 21,200 425,000 802,900 377,900Note *
Other family types F F F 357,200 882,400 525,200Note *
Immigrant status of major income earner
Immigrant 15,800Note E: Use with caution 40,100Note E: Use with caution 24,300Note E: Use with caution 363,500 794,700 431,200Note *
Canadian-born 8,300 21,000 12,700 321,400 557,700 236,300Note *
Home ownership statusTable 2 Note 2
Owners with a mortgage 66,300 120,000 53,700 407,600 728,300 320,700Note *
Owners without a mortgage 6,900 18,000 11,100 421,600 849,000 427,400Note *
Non-owners 2,100Note E: Use with caution 5,000 2,900 54,200Note E: Use with caution 70,300Note E: Use with caution 16,100Note E: Use with caution
Labour force status of major income earner
Employee F 77,000Note E: Use with caution F 500,100Note E: Use with caution 716,700 216,600Note E: Use with caution
Self-employed 69,100Note E: Use with caution 95,300Note E: Use with caution 26,200Note E: Use with caution 665,000Note E: Use with caution 1,116,400 451,400Note E: Use with caution
Not in the labour force 7,200 19,000 11,800 304,300 548,800 244,500Note *
Family income quintile
Bottom quintile 3,500Note E: Use with caution 8,000Note E: Use with caution 4,500Note E: Use with caution 69,900Note E: Use with caution 93,500Note E: Use with caution 23,600Note E: Use with caution
Second quintile 5,500Note E: Use with caution 13,600Note E: Use with caution 8,100Note E: Use with caution 149,300 339,500 190,200Note *
Middle quintile 9,700Note E: Use with caution 21,000Note E: Use with caution 11,300Note E: Use with caution 328,600 630,500 301,900Note *
Fourth quintile 13,900Note E: Use with caution 45,000 31,100 501,600 957,200 455,600Note *
Top quintile F 74,000 F 750,000 1,538,800 788,800Note *
Province or region of residence
Atlantic 6,900 18,000 11,100 185,500 408,100 222,600Note *
Quebec 8,300Note E: Use with caution 16,500 8,200Note E: Use with caution 275,200 406,000 130,800
Ontario 8,600Note E: Use with caution 32,000 23,400 420,400 775,100 354,700Note *
Manitoba F 25,000Note E: Use with caution F 274,900Note E: Use with caution 595,000 320,100
Saskatchewan F F F 342,100Note E: Use with caution 745,200 403,100Note E: Use with caution
Alberta 15,200Note E: Use with caution 53,400Note E: Use with caution 38,200 349,800 695,000 345,200Note *
British Columbia 13,800Note E: Use with caution 31,000Note E: Use with caution 17,200Note E: Use with caution 367,700 850,100 482,400Note *

Debt and asset levels varied across family characteristics. Age is an important factor, as both debt and assets decrease with age. This is expected because seniors use assets to finance consumption, as income becomes lower in retirement relative to consumption levels.Note 

Higher levels of education are associated with higher levels of debt and assets: families in which the major income earner held a university degree had more than twice the level of debt and almost four times the level of assets as those whose major income earner did not finish high school. 

Debt and asset levels also varied across the income distribution. The level of debt among families in the top income quintile was nine times higher than the level for families in the bottom income quintile. The difference was even more pronounced for assets. Those in the top income quintile had assets that were 16 times higher than the level for those in the bottom quintile ($1,538,800 versus $93,500). 

Senior immigrant families had twice as much debt and one and a half times as many assets as the Canadian-born. The self-employed had debt levels comparable to those of employees, but had more assets. Unattached seniors had lower debt and asset levels than couples and other family types.

At the regional/provincial level in 2016, senior families in Quebec and Atlantic Provinces had the lowest levels of both debt and assets. On the other hand, seniors in Alberta had the highest level of debt, while those in British Columbia had the highest level of assets.Note   

Just like asset and debt levels varied across family characteristics, changes over the period also varied across characteristics. Between 1999 and 2016, median debt rose among all age groups under the age of 80, but most significantly among families in the 65-to-69 and 75-to-79 age groups. Families whose major income earner had less than a high school diploma and those with a non-university postsecondary diploma faced a significant increase in median debt levels.

Debt increased faster among families with higher incomes. For example, between 1999 and 2016, debt increased seven times more for seniors in the fourth income quintile than for those in the bottom quintile. Other family categories with notable increases in median debt included homeowners with a mortgage and those not in the labour force. 

For the most part, increases in debt were accompanied by increases in assets. The value of assets increased significantly for all age groups, particularly for those in their seventies. In 1999, people in their seventies had low asset levels relative to those aged 65 to 69, but this gap narrowed significantly in 2016. These results suggest that more recent cohorts of seniors earned more income and accumulated more wealth over their life cycles than earlier generations of seniors, in part because they were better educated and because women participated more in the labour market.

Higher levels of education were associated with greater increases in the level of assets. The level for seniors with a university degree increased by $398,000, compared with $73,600 for those with less than a high school diploma.

The disparity in the level of assets among those in the top and bottom of the income distribution increased over time. The level for those in the top income quintile more than doubled, from $750,000 in 1999 to $1,538,800 in 2016. In comparison, for those in the bottom quintile, asset levels did not increase significantly during the same period. 

Other family categories that saw significant increases in their level of assets, including gains of over $400,000 (in real terms), were homeowners without a mortgage, immigrants, and seniors living in British Columbia. The next section discusses the sources of the increase in the debt and assets of senior Canadians.

Changes in debt and assets were mostly related to housing

In recent years, housing prices increased considerably in Canada. According to the monthly Housing Price Index published by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), housing prices rose by 109.8% (in nominal terms) between January 2005 and December 2016.Note  Changes in the Canadian real estate market likely affected the balance sheet of Canadian families.

This section examines the extent to which increases in assets and debt are related to housing (i.e., mortgage debt and real estate assets). The decompositions are based on changes in average values for each family category.

Between 1999 and 2016, average debt increased by $50,000 and average assets rose by $500,900 (Table 3). Changes in average debt or asset values are typically larger than changes in median values given that averages are likely to be influenced by extreme values at the top of the distribution; however, it is necessary to use average values in order to disentangle the sources of the changes in debt or assets.


Table 3
Decomposition of changes in average debt and assets across family characteristics, senior families with debt, 1999 to 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Decomposition of changes in average debt and assets across family characteristics Change in average debt, Change in average assets, Change, 1999 to 2016, Due to mortgage debt, Due to consumer debt, Due to real estate assets, Due to pension assets and Due to other assets, calculated using constant 2016 dollars and percentage units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Change in average debt Change in average assets
Change, 1999 to 2016 Due to mortgage debt Due to consumer debt Change, 1999 to 2016 Due to real estate assets Due to pension assets Due to other assets
constant 2016 dollars percent constant 2016 dollars percent
Senior families with debt 50,000 67.2 32.8 500,900 51.7 12.3 36.0
Sex of major income earner
Male 62,700 69.5 30.5 567,000 53.0 8.1 39.0
Female 32,400 60.2 39.8 426,500 47.9 22.0 30.2
Age of major income earner
65 to 69 45,700 63.7 36.3 526,200 49.4 10.8 39.8
70 to 74 64,700Note E: Use with caution 68.1Note E: Use with caution 31.9Note E: Use with caution 590,600 47.7 15.3 37.0
75 to 79 52,300Note E: Use with caution 72.2Note E: Use with caution 27.8Note E: Use with caution 394,800 57.6 18.2 24.2
80 and over 33,100Note E: Use with caution 68.2Note E: Use with caution 31.8Note E: Use with caution 404,500 64.3 7.6 28.2
Highest level of education of major income earner
Less than high school 40,900 72.4 27.6 265,400 65.9 0.6 33.5
High school diploma 31,400Note E: Use with caution 55.0Note E: Use with caution 45.0Note E: Use with caution 294,000 56.0 -14.4 58.4
Non-university postsecondary certificate or diploma 39,100 59.3 40.7 396,700 54.3 20.3 25.4
University degree or certificate 66,200Note E: Use with caution 67.2Note E: Use with caution 32.8Note E: Use with caution 771,700 52.6 13.8 33.6
Family structureTable 3 Note 1
Unattached individual 25,500Note E: Use with caution 63.4Note E: Use with caution 36.6Note E: Use with caution 270,700 47.2 22.7 30.1
Male 20,000Note E: Use with caution 69.2Note E: Use with caution 30.8Note E: Use with caution 274,300 48.7 19.6 31.7
Female 27,100Note E: Use with caution 62.3Note E: Use with caution 37.7Note E: Use with caution 257,800 47.3 24.2 28.5
Couple, no children 56,500 62.8 37.2 581,600 55.2 11.6 33.2
Other family types 102,800Note E: Use with caution 76.5Note E: Use with caution 23.5Note E: Use with caution 849,800 48.2 6.7 45.1
Immigrant status of major income earner
Immigrant 55,700Note E: Use with caution 65.9Note E: Use with caution 34.1Note E: Use with caution 585,600 64.4 5.6 29.9
Canadian-born 47,500 67.3 32.7 472,300 46.8 15.0 38.2
Home ownership statusTable 3 Note 2
Owners with a mortgage 86,100 82.0 18.0 447,800 65.2 6.6 28.2
Owners without a mortgage 46,700Note E: Use with caution 51.8Note E: Use with caution 48.2Note E: Use with caution 748,800 48.5 11.6 39.9
Non-owners F Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published 41,200Note E: Use with caution -12.6Note E: Use with caution 80.8Note E: Use with caution 31.7Note E: Use with caution
Labour force status of major income earner
Employee 90,500 69.7 30.3 592,200 48.7 14.9 36.4
Self-employed 118,000Note E: Use with caution 80.7Note E: Use with caution 19.3Note E: Use with caution 985,200 47.8 5.1 47.1
Not in the labour force 29,400 57.5 42.5 376,700 55.2 16.3 28.5
Family income quintile
Bottom quintile 20,700Note E: Use with caution 63.9Note E: Use with caution 36.1Note E: Use with caution 75,900Note E: Use with caution 103.8Note E: Use with caution 6.0Note E: Use with caution -9.8Note E: Use with caution
Second quintile 29,800Note E: Use with caution 71.1Note E: Use with caution 28.9Note E: Use with caution 244,800 69.7 11.7 18.5
Middle quintile 31,100 56.2 43.8 388,400 42.0 23.3 34.7
Fourth quintile 42,400Note E: Use with caution 50.7Note E: Use with caution 49.3Note E: Use with caution 554,100 52.6 11.4 36.0
Top quintile 126,500 75.2 24.8 1,247,200 47.6 9.8 42.6
Province or region of residence
Atlantic 29,200 55.8 44.2 293,100 35.2 31.6 33.2
Quebec 26,100 67.1 32.9 252,000 49.8 14.7 35.5
Ontario 39,500Note E: Use with caution 56.8Note E: Use with caution 43.2Note E: Use with caution 578,100 50.0 7.9 42.1
Manitoba 48,700Note E: Use with caution 78.8Note E: Use with caution 21.2Note E: Use with caution 503,500 43.8 21.7 34.5
Saskatchewan 47,400Note E: Use with caution 85.5Note E: Use with caution 14.5Note E: Use with caution 597,800 44.0 23.0 33.0
Alberta 152,500Note E: Use with caution 77.4Note E: Use with caution 22.6Note E: Use with caution 935,500 52.1 10.7 37.3
British Columbia 64,400 66.2 33.8 555,500 66.0 12.7 21.3

Around two-thirds of the total increase in average debt was attributable to the increase in mortgage debt, while the remainder was due to an increase in consumer debt. The contribution of mortgage debt to the increase in total debt was somewhat larger among the least-educated and the most-educated families. For example, mortgage debt was responsible for 72% of the growth in total debt among families whose major income earner did not finish high school and 67% for those with a university degree. In comparison, the contribution was 55% and 59%, respectively, for those with a high school diploma and those with a non-university postsecondary diploma. The results obtained across levels of education mirrored the results obtained across income quintiles; the contribution of mortgage debt to total debt was larger among the bottom two quintiles and the top quintile than among the third and fourth quintiles.

At the regional/provincial level, mortgage debt contributed to a larger portion of the debt increase in the Prairies, namely Saskatchewan (86%), Manitoba (79%) and Alberta (77%). For seniors residing in Ontario and Atlantic Provinces, over one-half of the total increase in debt was due to mortgage debt.

With regard to assets, real estate contributed to more than one-half of the overall increase in the average value. The value of employer pension plans contributed an additional 12%. The remainder (36%) was attributable to all other assets (financial investments such as RRSPs and other non-housing items). Real estate contributed to all of the increase in the value of assets for seniors in the bottom income quintile. In comparison, it contributed to less than one-half of the increase for seniors in the fifth income quintile.

Among immigrants, 64% of the increase in the value of assets was driven by real estate and 6% by the value of pensions. The comparable contributions among the Canadian-born were 47% and 15%.

Lastly, there were regional differences in the contribution of real estate to the increase in the value of assets. In British Columbia, for instance, two thirds of the increase in total assets was due to real estate, as higher housing prices contributed to increase the value of real estate assets in this province. Conversely, in Atlantic Provinces, each category of assets (real estate, pensions and other assets) contributed almost equally to the increase in the assets of senior families.

Net worth increased faster for senior families at the top of the income distribution

Given increases in both debt and assets, it is worthwhile to examine how wealth, or net worth, changed over the period. Net worth is defined as the overall value of assets held by the family, minus the overall debt held by that family.

In 2016, the median net worth of senior families with debt was $537,400, up from $298,900 in 1999 (Table 4). Most categories of families saw significant increases in their net worth but, as was the case with debt and assets, changes in median net worth varied across family characteristics. The largest increases took place among those in the fourth and fifth income quintiles (increases of $446,000 and $661,700, respectively); immigrants (+$422,200); other family types (+$410,600); homeowners without a mortgage (+$403,800); and families whose major income earner had a university degree (+$341,800).


Table 4
Median net worth of senior families with debt, 1999 and 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Median net worth of senior families with debt 1999, 2016 and Change, calculated using 2016 constant dollars units of measure (appearing as column headers).
1999 2016 Change
2016 constant dollars
Senior families with debt 298,900 537,400 238,500Note *
Sex of major income earner
Male 380,500 608,500 228,000
Female 166,300 435,300 269,000
Age of major income earner
65 to 69 374,000 608,500 234,500Note *
70 to 74 273,700 543,600 269,900Note *
75 to 79 233,300 532,800 299,500Note *
80 and over 213,300 374,100 160,800
Highest level of education of major income earner
Less than high school 208,600 261,600 53,000
High school diploma 305,000Note E: Use with caution 418,000 113,000Note E: Use with caution
Non-university postsecondary certificate or diploma 337,900 568,600 230,700Note *
University degree or certificate 739,000 1,080,800 341,800Note *
Family structureTable 4 Note 1
Unattached individual 157,000 261,600 104,600
Male 226,700 264,200Note E: Use with caution 37,500Note E: Use with caution
Female 137,100 259,900 122,800
Couple, no children 406,600 730,000 323,400Note *
Other family types 326,200 736,800 410,600Note *
Immigrant status of major income earner
Immigrant 307,800 730,000 422,200Note *
Canadian-born 298,900 509,800 210,900Note *
Home ownership status
Owners with a mortgage 334,100 596,000 261,900Note *
Owners without a mortgage 414,000 817,800 403,800Note *
Non-owners 53,100Note E: Use with caution 66,200Note E: Use with caution 13,100Note E: Use with caution
Labour force status of major income earner
Employee 451,600Note E: Use with caution 577,000 125,400Note E: Use with caution
Self-employed 541,100Note E: Use with caution 909,500 368,400Note E: Use with caution
Not in the labour force 276,400 509,800 233,400Note *
Family income quintile
Bottom quintile 62,900Note E: Use with caution 68,900Note E: Use with caution 6,000Note E: Use with caution
Second quintile 127,200 278,100 150,900Note *
Middle quintile 311,000 571,400 260,400Note *
Fourth quintile 451,600 897,600 446,000Note *
Top quintile 737,900 1,399,600 661,700Note *
Province or region of residence
Atlantic 174,600 351,600 177,000Note *
Quebec 249,000Note E: Use with caution 354,600 105,600Note E: Use with caution
Ontario 395,300 691,500 296,200Note *
Manitoba 254,600Note E: Use with caution 559,200 304,600
Saskatchewan 341,600Note E: Use with caution 619,800Note E: Use with caution 278,200Note E: Use with caution
Alberta 311,000 577,000 266,000Note *
British Columbia 340,300 733,400 393,100Note *

On the other hand, net worth did not increase significantly among those in the bottom income quintile, non-owners and families in the two lowest educational attainment categories. For these groups, net worth did not increase because neither median debt nor median assets increased significantly over the period.

As was the case for asset and debt levels, there were differences in net worth variations at the regional/provincial level. In British Columbia, median net worth increased by almost $400,000 over the period, the largest increase of all provinces/regions. Net worth increased in other parts of the country too, but not all increases were statistically significant.

The debt-to-income ratio more than doubled between 1999 and 2016

The debt-to-income and debt-to-asset ratios provide another perspective on the financial state of Canadian families. In fact, the debt-to-income ratio is considered to be one of the most important indicators of a family’s indebtedness. A relatively high debt-to-income ratio implies that a family will spend a higher proportion of its income on repaying debt, leaving less for consumption and saving.

The debt-to-income ratio, however, does not tell a complete story of the financial situation of seniors, in part because income may not represent the best approximation of the financial resources available to them. Another ratio, the debt-to-asset ratio, measures a family’s resilience to financial shocks. Families with a higher debt-to-asset ratio have higher leverage and are considered to be in a weaker financial position. A debt-to-asset ratio greater than one means that a family has more debt than assets–a rare occurrence among Canadian senior families. Conversely, families with a debt-to-asset ratio closer to zero have very little debt relative to their asset levels.

In this paper, median ratios are used and are obtained by calculating the debt-to-income and debt-to-asset ratios for each family in any given category, and by identifying the median value within that category. The advantage of this method is that it is more representative of the financial situation of typical families within a category. However, such values cannot be compared with ratios calculated using aggregate values provided by the System of National Accounts (SNA). With the SNA, for any given category, the overall value of household debt is divided by the overall value of income (for the debt-to-income ratio) or assets (for the debt-to-asset ratio).


Table 5
Median debt-to-income ratio across family characteristics, senior families with debt, 1999 and 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Median debt-to-income ratio across family characteristics 1999, 2016, Change, 1999 to 2016, Estimate, 95% confidence interval, From and To, calculated using ratio units of measure (appearing as column headers).
1999 2016 Change, 1999 to 2016
Estimate 95% confidence interval Estimate 95% confidence interval
From To From To
ratio
Senior families with debt 0.239 0.185 0.295 0.522 0.442 0.598 0.283Note *
Sex of major income earner
Male 0.307 0.247 0.373 0.589 0.467 0.713 0.282
Female 0.179 0.125 0.235 0.473 0.386 0.554 0.294
Age of major income earner
65 to 69 0.321 0.242 0.398 0.705 0.553 0.867 0.384Note *
70 to 74 0.234 0.132 0.328 0.474 0.313 0.627 0.240
75 to 79 0.165 0.082 0.238 0.495 0.314 0.666 0.330Note *
80 and over Note F: too unreliable to be published -0.037 0.237 0.210 0.053 0.367 Note F: too unreliable to be published
Highest level of education of major income earner
Less than high school 0.165 0.101 0.219 0.476 0.264 0.696 0.311Note *
High school diploma 0.453 0.215 0.685 0.457 0.323 0.597 0.004
Non-university postsecondary certificate or diploma 0.272 0.133 0.407 0.481 0.362 0.598 0.209
University degree or certificate 0.443 0.224 0.656 0.717 0.426 1.014 0.274
Family structureTable 5 Note 1
Unattached individual 0.139 0.081 0.199 0.416 0.283 0.557 0.277Note *
Male 0.231 0.059 0.401 0.378 0.194 0.566 0.147
Female 0.116 0.057 0.183 0.455 0.289 0.611 0.339Note *
Couple, no children 0.303 0.241 0.359 0.581 0.462 0.698 0.278Note *
Other family types 0.318 0.163 0.477 0.659 0.444 0.876 0.341
Immigrant status of major income earner
Immigrant 0.337 0.164 0.516 0.845 0.772 0.928 0.508Note *
Canadian-born 0.209 0.171 0.249 0.473 0.215 0.725 0.264
Home ownership status
Owners with a mortgage 1.456 1.186 1.734 2.170 1.954 2.386 0.714Note *
Owners without a mortgage 0.175 0.141 0.219 0.322 0.261 0.379 0.147Note *
Non-owners 0.089 0.051 0.129 0.172 0.111 0.229 0.083
Labour force status of major income earner
Employee 0.513 0.236 0.784 0.926 0.616 1.244 0.413
Self-employed 1.397 0.459 2.341 1.296 0.751 1.849 -0.101
Not in the labour force 0.208 0.171 0.249 0.439 0.362 0.518 0.231Note *
Family income quintile
Bottom quintile 0.179 0.082 0.278 0.434 0.175 0.685 0.255
Second quintile 0.169 0.111 0.229 0.398 0.263 0.537 0.229Note *
Middle quintile 0.234 0.093 0.367 0.471 0.372 0.568 0.237Note *
Fourth quintile 0.295 0.182 0.418 0.670 0.494 0.846 0.375Note *
Top quintile 0.369 0.213 0.527 0.733 0.554 0.906 0.364Note *
Province or region of residence
Atlantic 0.192 0.123 0.257 0.354 0.232 0.468 0.162
Quebec 0.179 0.062 0.298 0.383 0.282 0.478 0.204
Ontario 0.209 0.112 0.308 0.548 0.393 0.707 0.339Note *
Manitoba 0.198 0.043 0.357 0.477 0.166 0.794 0.279
Saskatchewan 0.295 0.143 0.457 0.536 0.285 0.795 0.241
Alberta 0.407 0.214 0.606 0.872 0.478 1.262 0.465
British Columbia 0.349 0.193 0.507 0.797 0.486 1.114 0.448

Between 1999 and 2016, the median debt-to-income ratio for senior families with debt more than doubled from 0.24 to 0.52 (Table 5). This means that, for the median family in 2016, debt amounted to 52% of after-tax family income, up from 24% in 1999.

While the median debt-to-income ratio increased for most categories of senior families, the increase was relatively higher for families whose major income earner was aged 65 to 69 or 75 to 79. The increase was also larger for those who did not finish high school.

The increase in the ratio varied by family income. While the ratio doubled for families in all income quintiles, the absolute increase was larger for those in the upper income quintiles. For example, the median ratio increased by about 0.36 for families in the top two quintiles compared with an increase of around 0.23 for those in the second and third quintiles.

Other groups with significant increases in their median debt-to-income ratio included unattached individuals (especially unattached females), couples, immigrants, homeowners (especially those with an outstanding mortgage), those not in the labour force, and families residing in Ontario.

More than one-third of families had a debt-to-income ratio over 1.0 in 2016

Given that there are important variations among senior families in terms of family finances, additional insights can be obtained by examining the distribution of the ratios. In 2016, 49% of senior families with debt had a debt-to-income ratio up to 0.5, meaning that the value of their debt did not exceed 50% of their overall after-tax family income (Chart 1). On the other hand, 36% of senior families had a debt-to-income ratio over 1.0 in 2016, and 21% of families had a debt-to-income ratio over 2.0. In 1999, these percentages were 21% and 11%, respectively. Such families may be at a higher risk of a financial shock as they have a high degree of exposure to debt.

Chart 1 Distribution of families by debt-to-income ratio, senior families with debt, 1999 and 2016

Data table for Chart 1 
Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1 1999 and 2016 (appearing as column headers).
1999 2016
Debt-to-income ratio percent
Up to 0.5 64.7 49.0
Over 0.5 to 1.0 14.8 15.2
Over 1.0 to 1.5 6.4 9.2
Over 1.5 to 2.0 3.7 6.0
Over 2.0 10.5 20.7

Various characteristics are associated with the likelihood that families have a debt-to-income ratio of over 1, or in other words, the probability of having a level of debt that is higher than their income. The probability that families whose major income earner had less than a high school education had a debt-to-income ratio over 1.0 was 43%, and it was 40% among those with at least a university degree (Table 6). In comparison, those with a high school diploma or non-university postsecondary diploma had probabilities of around 30%. Immigrants had a higher probability to have a debt-to-income ratio over 1.0 than the Canadian-born (44% versus 33%). At the regional/provincial level, senior families in Atlantic Provinces were less likely to have debt levels greater than their income, a result reflecting the fact that seniors in Atlantic Provinces have relatively low debt levels.


Table 6
Probability of having a debt-to-income ratio over 1.0 and a debt-to-asset ratio over 0.1, senior families with debt, 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Probability of having a debt-to-income ratio over 1.0 and a debt-to-asset ratio over 0.1 Debt-to-income ratio over 1.0 and Debt-to-asset ratio over 0.1, calculated using predicted probability units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Debt-to-income ratio over 1.0 Debt-to-asset ratio over 0.1
predicted probability
Sex of major income earner
Male 0.37 0.42
Female (ref.) 0.34 0.36
Age of major income earner
65 to 69 (ref.) 0.41 0.42
70 to 74 0.36 0.40
75 to 79 0.34 0.38
80 and over 0.23Note * 0.28Note *
Highest level of education of major income earner
Less than high school (ref.) 0.43 0.51
High school diploma 0.30Note * 0.38Note *
Non-university postsecondary certificate or diploma 0.31Note * 0.36Note *
University degree or certificate 0.40 0.31Note *
Family structureTable 6 Note 1
Unattached individual (ref.) 0.37 0.44
Couple, no children 0.35 0.35Note *
Other family types 0.35 0.40
Immigrant status of major income earner
Immigrant 0.44Note * 0.49Note *
Canadian-born (ref.) 0.33 0.36
Labour force status of major income earner
Employee (ref.) 0.45 0.59
Self-employed 0.51 0.44Note *
Not in the labour force 0.32Note * 0.35Note *
Family income quintile
Bottom quintile (ref.) 0.35 0.58
Second quintile 0.36 0.40Note *
Middle quintile 0.36 0.31Note *
Fourth quintile 0.38 0.37Note *
Top quintile 0.35 0.29Note *
Province or region of residence
Atlantic 0.26Note * 0.39
Quebec 0.31 0.38
Ontario (ref.) 0.37 0.37
Manitoba 0.33 0.33
Saskatchewan 0.31 0.36
Alberta 0.46 0.49Note *
British Columbia 0.43 0.41

In addition, 14% of senior families had consumer debt that was higher than their after-tax family income in 2016. In comparison, the proportion of such families was 4% in 1999. Consumer debt is debt other than mortgage debt such as outstanding balances on credit cards, lines of credit, loans from banks, vehicle loans and unpaid bills. Meeting financial obligations could be a challenge for these families as a large portion of their income would go towards servicing debt that is not backed by an asset.

Debt-to-asset ratio was relatively stable between 1999 and 2016

In 2016, the median debt-to-asset ratio was 0.06 for Canadian senior families, meaning that the value of debt of a typical senior family amounted to 6% of the value of its assets (Table 7). This was largely unchanged from 0.05 in 1999. Such results suggest that most senior families have relatively low levels of debt relative to their assets.


Table 7
Median debt-to-asset ratio across family characteristics, senior families with debt, 1999 and 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Median debt-to-asset ratio across family characteristics 1999, 2016, Change, 1999 to 2016, Estimate, 95% confidence interval, From and To, calculated using ratio units of measure (appearing as column headers).
1999 2016 Change, 1999 to 2016
Estimate 95% confidence interval Estimate 95% confidence interval
From To From To
ratio
Senior families with debt 0.047 0.030 0.070 0.063 0.050 0.070 0.016
Sex of major income earner
Male 0.049 0.038 0.062 0.065 0.048 0.072 0.016
Female 0.040 0.022 0.058 0.058 0.044 0.076 0.018
Age of major income earner
65 to 69 0.053 0.038 0.062 0.070 0.054 0.086 0.017
70 to 74 0.056 0.038 0.082 0.063 0.042 0.078 0.007
75 to 79 0.030 0.012 0.048 0.058 0.038 0.082 0.028
80 and over Note F: too unreliable to be published -0.007 0.047 0.034 0.003 0.057 Note F: too unreliable to be published
Highest level of education of major income earner
Less than high school 0.041 0.022 0.058 0.107 0.077 0.143 0.066Note *
High school diploma 0.063 0.025 0.095 0.065 -0.136 0.256 0.002
Non-university postsecondary certificate or diploma 0.044 0.018 0.062 0.052 0.036 0.064 0.008
University degree or certificate 0.038 0.018 0.062 0.049 0.034 0.066 0.011
Family structureTable 7 Note 1
Unattached individual 0.041 0.018 0.062 0.073 0.046 0.094 0.032
Male Note F: too unreliable to be published -0.001 0.121 0.091 0.045 0.135 Note F: too unreliable to be published
Female 0.034 0.010 0.050 0.069 0.045 0.095 0.035
Couple, no children 0.033 0.018 0.042 0.051 0.040 0.060 0.018
Other family types 0.060 0.038 0.082 0.073 0.041 0.099 0.013
Immigrant status of major income earner
Immigrant 0.073 0.037 0.103 0.075 0.041 0.099 0.002
Canadian-born 0.039 0.030 0.050 0.056 0.050 0.070 0.017Note *
Home ownership status
Owners with a mortgage 0.136 0.113 0.167 0.177 0.158 0.202 0.041
Owners without a mortgage 0.016 0.016 0.024 0.022 0.016 0.024 0.006
Non-owners 0.058 0.033 0.087 0.094 0.041 0.139 0.036
Labour force status of major income earner
Employee 0.084 0.043 0.117 0.134 0.093 0.167 0.050
Self-employed Note F: too unreliable to be published -0.032 0.152 0.069 0.043 0.097 Note F: too unreliable to be published
Not in the labour force 0.040 0.028 0.052 0.053 0.040 0.060 0.013
Family income quintile
Bottom quintile 0.125 0.048 0.212 0.172 0.086 0.254 0.047
Second quintile 0.052 0.023 0.077 0.057 0.036 0.084 0.005
Middle quintile 0.032 0.012 0.048 0.038 0.026 0.054 0.006
Fourth quintile 0.033 0.010 0.050 0.048 0.034 0.066 0.015
Top quintile 0.038 0.020 0.060 0.057 0.044 0.076 0.019
Province or region of residence
Atlantic 0.040 0.026 0.054 0.059 0.036 0.084 0.019
Quebec 0.054 0.028 0.072 0.065 0.036 0.084 0.011
Ontario 0.034 0.006 0.054 0.056 0.044 0.076 0.022
Manitoba Note F: too unreliable to be published -0.003 0.103 0.036 0.009 0.071 Note F: too unreliable to be published
Saskatchewan 0.034 0.005 0.055 0.056 0.027 0.093 0.022
Alberta 0.052 0.023 0.077 0.089 0.055 0.125 0.037
British Columbia 0.047 0.034 0.066 0.068 0.048 0.092 0.021

The distribution of the debt-to-asset ratio also remained relative stable between 1999 and 2016. In 2016, 61% of senior families had a debt-to-asset ratio equal to or lower than 0.1, meaning that these families had debt levels that were equal to or lower that 10% of the value of their assets (Chart 2). On the other hand, 11% of families had a debt-to-asset ratio over 0.4. The corresponding proportions in 1999 were 67% and 10%.

Chart 2 Distribution of families by debt-to-asset ratio, senior families with debt, 1999 and 2016

Data table for Chart 2 
Data table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 2. The information is grouped by Debt-to-asset ratio (appearing as row headers), 1999 and 2016, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Debt-to-asset ratio 1999 2016
percent
Up to 0.1 67.4 60.9
Over 0.1 to 0.2 11.3 14.4
Over 0.2 to 0.3 7.3 8.7
Over 0.3 to 0.4 4.3 4.7
Over 0.4 9.8 11.3

Various characteristics were associated with a relatively high debt-to-asset ratio, as shown in Table 6. Higher income levels were associated with a lower probability of having a debt-to-asset ratio over 0.1. Specifically, the probability that a family in the highest income quintile would have a higher debt-to-asset ratio was 29%, compared with 58% for those in the bottom quintile. Other groups who were more likely to have the ratio over 0.1 included unattached seniors, immigrants, working seniors, and seniors residing in Alberta.Note 

Conclusion

Due to the aging of the population, a growing proportion of Canadians are now aged 65 or over. A growing number of studies are devoted to this segment of the population. This paper looked at the distribution of debt and assets among senior families and the changes over time. Between 1999 and 2016, the proportion of seniors with debt increased from 27% to 42%. The median debt rose from $9,000 to $25,000. At the same time, median assets went up from $327,000 to $607,400. Two-thirds of the increase in debt was due to mortgage debt and around one-half of the increase in assets was related to real estate.

The magnitude of these changes in debt and assets varied across family characteristics. As a result, certain family types saw their net worth increase notably more than others. For example, between 1999 and 2016, the median net worth for families in the top income quintile increased by $661,700. By contrast, the increase for senior families in the bottom income quintile was not statistically significant.

The debt-to-income and the debt-to-asset ratios provide another perspective on family finances. There was little change in the median debt-to-asset ratio over time. However, the median debt-to-income ratio increased from 0.24 in 1999 to 0.52 in 2016. The increase in the debt-to-income ratio, however, varied across groups, and the increase in debt levels did not have the same implications for all groups of seniors.

Seniors in younger age groups (aged 65 to 69), those in higher income quintiles and those living in British Columbia saw significant increases not only in their debt-to-income ratios, but also in their net worth levels. For these seniors, a rising debt-to-income ratio likely reflects an increased capacity to borrow, for example through lines of credit financed against housing collateral.

For other groups of seniors, such as those with lower levels of education or unattached individuals, increases in the debt-to-income ratio could be more consequential as their net worth did not increase as much as the net worth of other groups of seniors. Some of these seniors may be more at risk to have exceedingly high levels of debt relative to income, and therefore may be more financially vulnerable. For these seniors, a higher debt level could have consequences such as delayed retirement, lower levels of mental or physical well-being, and elevated levels of stress. Financial difficulties can also translate into fewer options for seniors if they require care.

Sharanjit Uppal is a senior researcher with Statistics Canada’s Insights on Canadian Society.

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Data sources, methods and definitions

Data source

Data from the 1999 and 2016 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 such as inmates of penal institutions and chronic care patients living in hospitals and nursing homes.

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

Definitions

Family refers to the economic family, defined as families consisting 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 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.

Mortgage debt refers to debt owed by families on the principal residence and all other real estate (Canadian and foreign).

Consumer debt includes debt outstanding on credit cards, personal and home equity lines of credit, and 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 before-tax economic family income 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 total after-tax family income.

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

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Income among senior families

Income among senior families increased over time. In 2016, the before-tax family income was $43,300, up from $36,200 (2016 dollars) in 1999 (Table 8).Note  Though income increased for almost all groups, there were variations. For example, families in the top income quintile saw their income rise by $29,700 (+36%) whereas those in the bottom quintile had an increase of $1,500 (+8%). This difference led to a widening of the gap between these two quintiles from $64,400 in 1999 to $92,600 in 2016. Among educational groups, families whose major income earner had a high school diploma or less had no change in income, whereas the income of the two groups with higher levels of education increased.


Table 8
Before-tax and after-tax income, senior families with and without debt, 1999 and 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Before-tax and after-tax income Before tax, After tax, 1999 and 2016, calculated using 2016 constant dollars units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Before tax After tax
1999 2016 1999 2016
2016 constant dollars
All senior families with and without debt 36,200 43,300Note * 33,500 40,300Note *
Sex of major income earner
Male 45,300 55,100Note * 41,200 49,900Note *
Female 24,900 35,100Note * 23,200 33,200Note *
Age of major income earner
65 to 69 42,500 54,700Note * 37,700 47,600Note *
70 to 74 39,400 46,100 35,900 41,900Note *
75 to 79 34,000 43,300Note * 32,400 40,000Note *
80 and over 28,400 35,600Note * 26,700 34,000Note *
Highest level of education of major income earner
Less than high school 31,600 31,600 30,400 30,700
High school diploma 39,500 42,200 36,700 39,600
Non-university postsecondary certificate or diploma 38,700 51,100Note * 35,900 45,600Note *
University degree or certificate 61,800 74,700Note * 51,100 63,700Note *
Family structureTable 8 Note 1
Unattached individual 22,700 28,000Note * 21,600 26,800Note *
Male 26,300 29,200 23,800 27,800
Female 22,100 27,400Note * 21,100 26,400Note *
Couple, no children 47,100 62,000Note * 42,700 56,800Note *
Other family types 52,900 68,200Note * 49,300 62,400Note *
Immigrant status of major income earner
Immigrant 37,900 42,200 35,600 40,600
Canadian-born 35,700 43,700Note * 33,300 40,300Note *
Home ownership status
Owners with a mortgage 52,100 58,900 45,500 52,700
Owners without a mortgage 41,800 55,300Note * 38,000 49,800Note *
Non-owners 24,500 28,900Note * 22,800 28,300Note *
Labour force status of major income earner
Employee 68,600 79,900 59,300 68,300
Self-employed 63,700 69,200 50,900 63,100
Not in the labour force 34,900 40,200Note * 32,600 37,500Note *
Family income quintile
Bottom quintile 17,700 19,200Note * 17,700 19,200Note *
Second quintile 23,800 29,900Note * 22,700 29,300Note *
Middle quintile 36,700 43,000Note * 35,600 41,900Note *
Fourth quintile 50,700 66,200Note * 45,500 59,400Note *
Top quintile 82,100 111,800Note * 65,600 93,300Note *
Province or region of residence
Atlantic 30,900 41,300Note * 29,800 39,400Note *
Quebec 33,300 36,700 32,100 34,800
Ontario 41,600 45,900 38,000 43,300Note *
Manitoba 33,700 48,700Note * 31,500 43,900Note *
Saskatchewan 33,500 43,000Note * 32,100 39,700Note *
Alberta 35,100 55,200Note * 33,900 49,000Note *
British Columbia 36,400 48,200Note * 32,800 43,200Note *

At the regional/provincial level, the before-tax family income of senior families in 2016 varied from a low of around $36,700 in Quebec to a high of about $55,200 in Alberta. Between 1999 and 2016, families in all provinces or regions, except Quebec and Ontario, saw their incomes grow. The increase was the largest in Alberta (as it increased by $20,100 or 57%).

The employment rate among seniors has been on the rise since the mid-1990s. In 2015, 20% of Canadians aged 65 and over were employed, up from 10% in 1995.Note  As a result, wages and salaries were the major source of family income for 1 in 10 seniors in 2016 (Chart 3). Government transfers are still the major source of income for a majority of seniors, though the proportion reporting them as a major source dropped from 68% in 1999 to 52% in 2016. A growing proportion of seniors reported retirement pensions as their major source of income (32% in 2016 versus 21% in 1999).

Chart 3 Major source of income, senior families with and without debt, 1999 and 2016

Data table for Chart 3 
Data table for Chart 3
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 3. The information is grouped by Major source of income (appearing as row headers), 1999 and 2016, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Major source of income 1999 2016
percent
Wages and salaries 3.7 9.6
Self-employment income 1.4Note E: Use with caution 2.2
Government transfers 68.1 51.6
Investment income 5.7 4.1
Retirement pensions 20.6 31.7
Other income 0.5Note E: Use with caution 0.6Note E: Use with caution

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