Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics (SLID) – 2011 Survey Overview

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Survey objectives
What's new?
Survey design
Household relationships
SLID: a longitudinal survey
Computer-assisted telephone interviewing

Survey objectives

The Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics (SLID) is an important source of income data for Canadian families, households and individuals. Introduced in 1993, SLID provides an added dimension to traditional surveys on labour market activity and income: the changes experienced by individuals and families through time. Among the survey's key objectives is the understanding Canadians’ economic well-being.

Starting with reference year 1998, SLID officially replaced the annual Survey of Consumer Finances as the main source of information on family income. Over the 1993-to-1997 period, the two surveys were run in parallel: estimates for this period are produced by combining both samples. Together, these surveys cover a period that begins in 1976. The income content of the two surveys is similar, although SLID uses a mixed collection mode that combined survey data with data from administrative sources. As well, SLID adds a large selection of variables that capture transitions in Canadian jobs, income and family events.

As a longitudinal survey, SLID interviews the same people from one year to the next for six years. The survey's longitudinal dimension enables evaluation of concurrent and often related events. This yields greater insight on the nature and extent of low income in Canada: What socio-economic shifts do individuals and families live through? How do these shifts vary with changes in their paid work, family make-up, receipt of government transfers and other factors? What proportion of households are persistently in low income year after year, and what makes it possible for others to emerge from periods of low income?

SLID also provides information on a broad selection of human capital variables, labour force experiences and demographic characteristics such as education, family relationships and household composition. Its breadth of content, combined with its relatively large sample, makes it a unique and valuable dataset.

What's new?

Final release from SLID

The 2011 data release is the last release from the Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics.  This release contains cross-sectional estimates only.  Effective with the 2012 reference year, cross-sectional income estimates will be available from the new Canadian Income Survey.

The longitudinal aspects contained in this Survey Overview pertain to data released from SLID up to and including 2010.

Refinements to the Market Basket Measure (MBM) shelter component and disposable income

The MBM, including its definition of disposable income, was designed by a working group of Federal, Provincial and Territorial officials, led by HRSDC between 1997 and 1999 (Hatfield 2002; Michaud, Cotton and Bishop 2004).  During 2009 and early 2010, the MBM underwent a comprehensive review of both content and methodology (Hatfield, Pyper and Gustajtis 2010).  Though led by HRSDC, the consultation process involved officials from Provincial and Territorial governments, other federal Departments and agencies including Statistics Canada and a panel of experts in low income measurement.  This review process led to a rebased series of thresholds (MBM 2008 base) which was revised historically to 2000, the beginning of the MBM time series. Among the changes to the MBM resulting from the comprehensive review was the revision of the shelter component to include the costs of homeowners without mortgages.  This revision recognized that, in a given year, homeowners without mortgages may pay less for shelter than they would if they were renting.  

During 2012, HRSDC officials re-examined the methodology for including homeowners without mortgages in order to better implement the conceptual decision to reflect these costs in the MBM.  Following this re-examination, a revised methodology was adopted that adjusts the MBM disposable income of homeowners without mortgages to account for the potential differences in their shelter-related expenses.  Specifically, the disposable income is adjusted in the following manner:

  1. Shelter cost for mortgage-free owners is calculated, based on the median shelter cost for all two- and three- bedroom mortgage-free dwellings in each MBM region.  These shelter costs reflect the actual distribution of two- and three-bedroom mortgage-free units in each MBM region.
  2. Mortgage-free owners’ difference in expenditures is calculated as the difference in the median shelter cost calculated in 1. above and that of renters (i.e. the cost of the shelter component)
  3. Disposable income of owners without mortgages is adjusted by adding the mortgage-free owners’ difference in expenditures prevailing in their MBM region to their MBM disposable income.

The shelter thresholds themselves are now exclusively a reflection of the median costs for all two- and three-bedroom rental units in each MBM region, weighted to take into account the actual distribution of such units. 

The revision takes effect in 2011 and includes an historical revision back to 2002 (the first year in which housing tenure information is available in SLID).

As a result of this revision, the MBM portions of several CANSIM tables have been revised.  These tables are 202-0802, 202-0803, 202-0804, 202-0806, 202-0807 and 202-0809.

Introduction of new variables

Market Basket Measure (2011-base)

There is a new series of variables based on the 2011-based Market Basket Measure (MBM).  Following a review by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, the shelter component of the basket and the definition of MBM disposable income were modified. New thresholds and disposable income have been created and new low-income variables have been produced.   Due to data availability, these variables are available beginning in reference year 2002 only.

Low income variables based on the 2008-based MBM are set to “not applicable” beginning with 2011.

Changes to variables

Provincial Tax Credits

New programs were added to the existing variable:

  • Quebec Solidarity Tax Credit: Quebec Sales Tax Credit Component and Housing Component
  • Ontario Energy and Property Tax Credit: Energy Component
  • Northern Ontario Energy Tax Credit
  • Transitional Northern Ontario Energy Tax Credit (for 2011 only)

Material Deprivation

Ontario material deprivation (OMD) data were collected on behalf of the Ontario Government as research for their poverty reduction plan for the 2011 reference year. The data are available only for households in Ontario.  Prior to the release of the 2011 reference year, the OMD variables were not imputed for non-response.  As of the release of the 2011 reference year, the OMD variables have been imputed for all available reference years (2009 to 2011).

Survey design

SLID is a household survey that covers all individuals in Canada, excluding residents of Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, residents of institutions and persons living on Indian reserves or in military barracks.

The SLID sample is composed of two panels. Each panel consists of roughly 17,000 households and about 34,000 adults, and is surveyed for six consecutive years. A new panel is introduced every three years, so two panels always overlap.

Figure 1 Overlapping design of SLID sample
Figure 1 Overlapping design of SLID sample

Description of Figure 1 Overlapping design of SLID sample

From January to March following the reference year, interviewers contact respondents by telephone. Interviewers collect information regarding respondents' labour market experiences, educational activity, income and family relationships. The demographic characteristics of family and household members represent a snapshot of the population as of the end of each calendar year.

Household relationships

This survey could be called the ‘Survey of Labour, Income and Family Dynamics’, since it has complete information on complex family structures and changes. How does it capture this information?

Unlike most household surveys, which describe how household members are related to one specific reference person, SLID asks explicitly about the relationship among all members of a household. Information on complex family structures—for example, blended or multi-generational families—can help in understanding family dynamics.

However, because families change, it‘s impossible to present data for exactly the same families over time. Instead, the same individuals are analysed in light of their family characteristics—for example, their family's income or whether they belong to a blended family.

SLID: a longitudinal survey

Description of a longitudinal survey
Longitudinal respondents
Longitudinal research themes

Description of a longitudinal survey

There are two types of recurring surveys: in most surveys, a new cross-section of people are interviewed each time; in others, the same people are interviewed over a period of time—a longitudinal survey.

The advantage of cross-sectional surveys is that they are generally more representative of the population, and they reveal the levels and trends of income or labour for the whole population or its sub-groups. But such surveys do not answer questions about changes or fluctuations faced by individuals or families: What are the fluctuations in people's labour, income or family characteristics at the micro level? What events tend to coincide? How often do people change jobs or get laid off, with what impact on their total family income? How many families split or join together in a given time period? What proportion of households is ‘persistently poor’ year after year, and what enables others to emerge from periods of low income? These and many similar questions can only be answered by a longitudinal survey.

In a survey like SLID, the focus extends from static cross-sectional measures to a range of longitudinal events: transitions, durations, and repeat occurrences of people's financial and work situations. These yield a number of possible longitudinal research themes.

Paradoxically, the comprehensive data that make SLID so valuable also makes the job of maintaining respondent confidentiality more complex for Statistics Canada. To comply with the strict confidentiality provisions of the Statistics Act, SLID longitudinal data are made available through special modes of dissemination (see data services).

Longitudinal respondents

Longitudinal respondents are the people belonging to the selected households when a new six-year panel of respondents is introduced. These respondents are interviewed once a year whether they stay, move away or split up. New joiners, called cohabitants in SLID, are interviewed as long as they continue to live with a longitudinal respondent. That is because the family make-up and family income situation of longitudinal respondents is of key interest. Interviewing cohabitants also improves the quality of cross-sectional estimates.

Children present in the original households are interviewed starting the year they reach 16 years old. People aged 70 years and older are not asked labour-related questions.

Longitudinal research themes

Discussions with prospective users and insights from other panel surveys with similar content helped identify seven longitudinal research themes that illustrate some of the survey's potential. Depending on the angle of study, it may make sense to use individuals, jobs, employers, or spells (of unemployment, for example) as the unit of analysis. SLID covers up to six jobs and six employers that a person might have during each calendar year.

Employment and unemployment dynamics

Labour force activity data usually show total employment, unemployment and inactivity. Changes in employment and unemployment between two months or two years are calculated by comparing these totals. SLID, however, shows the flow into each type of labour force activity experienced by individuals. Flow data of persons or jobs are possible by industry, occupation, or worker characteristics. Durations of spells may be of interest too; for example, to what extent are long spells of unemployment experienced by the same individuals? What are the major determinants? Why do people withdraw from the labour market, and what precedes a transition into self-employment?

Life cycle labour market transitions

Using SLID data, one can study major labour market transitions associated with particular stages of the life cycle, such as transitions from school to work, transitions from work to retirement and work absences taken to have or raise children. What are typical life-cycle patterns in Canada today? What are the subsequent activities of high school drop-outs, and what precedes a return to school?

Job quality

SLID supports research in such areas as wage differences between men and women, underemployment, occupational mobility, earnings growth over a period of several years, as well as wage and hours polarization among the working population.

Family economic mobility

How stable is family income? What proportion of families experience a significant improvement or deterioration in income between two points in time? What are the determinants of these changes? How important are changes in family composition (divorce, remarriage) in explaining a change in financial well-being?

Dynamics of low income

This research theme concerns the prevalence and duration of spells of low income and the factors related to families moving into or out of low income. Researchers can isolate and characterize a persistently in low income sub-population, as is done using longitudinal surveys in other countries. There is also interest in looking at receipt of employment insurance benefits, social assistance and other government transfers in relation to flows into and out of low income.

Life events and family changes

Central to SLID's demographic potential is information on family relationships, which makes it possible to accurately identify blended and multi-generational families. The longitudinal aspect permits the study of life events and their determinants or impact. For example, what are the family's economic circumstances preceding a marriage breakup, and what are they for each spouse and child following a separation?

Educational advancement and combining school and work

It is possible to view educational activity and attainment in the evolving context of an individual's other activities and family circumstances? What are the family circumstances of young people pursuing post-secondary education? How much do high school or postsecondary students combine work and school?

Computer-assisted telephone interviewing

SLID uses computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) for data collection. CATI interviews are conducted by telephone and the results are simultaneously entered in a computer that guides the interviewer through the questionnaire.

Because of its complexity as a longitudinal survey, SLID benefits greatly from CATI's potential for improving data quality. For example, there are many dates to collect in the course of a labour interview—dates worked, dates of jobless spells, absences from work and so on. With CATI, interviewers can remind respondents of information they provided in a previous interview. This helps respondents remember start and end dates of jobs and reduces the tendency to incorrectly associate these dates with the beginning or end of calendar years.

Computer-assisted interviewing helps keep track of members returning to the household and individuals returning to employers, rather than treating these members or employers as completely new.

Proxy response is accepted in SLID. This procedure allows one household member to answer questions on behalf of any or all other members of the household, provided he or she is willing to do so and is knowledgeable.

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