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Poverty Among Senior Citizens: A Canadian Success Story

In: The State of Economics in Canada: Festschrift in Honour of David Slater


  • Lars Osberg


Lars Osberg makes the case in his paper that the major success story of Canadian social policy in the twentieth century has in fact been the reduction of poverty among senior citizens. According to Osberg, the poverty rate, defined with the poverty line measured as one-half median equivalent income after taxes and transfers, for households headed by a person 65 or over fell from 28.4 per cent in 1973 to 5.4 per cent in 1997, while the poverty gap or income shortfall below the poverty line fell from 26.2 per cent to 15.8 per cent over the same period. In contrast, the elderly poverty rate and gap before tax and transfer income are much higher and show no downward trend. Osberg attributes the difference between the before and after transfers and taxes poverty rate and gap to the introduction of the Old Age Security in 1952 and Guaranteed Income Supplement in 1968 and the reduction in poverty after 1973 to the maturing of the Canada/Quebec Pension Plan regimes established in 1966. Osberg notes that income trends capture only part of the improvement in well-being enjoyed by seniors over the past several decades. Many of the current elderly population received significant capital gains from a large run up in housing prices in the 1970s and 1980s. In addition, the elderly have not been hit by the labour market insecurity that has affected the non-elderly, particularly youth, in the 1980s and 1990s. They have also greatly benefited from the introduction of universal medicare. Osberg also finds that relative to the United States, Sweden and the United Kingdom, Canada has done the best job in boosting the income levels of seniors above the poverty line. In his view, Canada has done a remarkable job in ensuring that senior citizens receive an income sufficient to prevent poverty.

Suggested Citation

  • Lars Osberg, 2001. "Poverty Among Senior Citizens: A Canadian Success Story," The State of Economics in Canada: Festschrift in Honour of David Slater, in: Patrick Grady & Andrew Sharpe (ed.), The State of Economics in Canada: Festschrift in Honour of David Slater, pages 151-181, Centre for the Study of Living Standards.
  • Handle: RePEc:sls:secfds:08

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Lars Osberg, 1998. "Economic Insecurity," Discussion Papers 0088, University of New South Wales, Social Policy Research Centre.
    2. Michael Baker & Gary Solon, 2003. "Earnings Dynamics and Inequality among Canadian Men, 1976-1992: Evidence from Longitudinal Income Tax Records," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 21(2), pages 267-288, April.
    3. Lars Osberg & Sadettin Erksoy & Shelley Phipps, 1998. "HOW TO VALUE THE POORER PROSPECTS OF YOUTH IN THE EARLY 1990s?," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 44(1), pages 43-62, March.
    4. Sen, Amartya K, 1976. "Poverty: An Ordinal Approach to Measurement," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 44(2), pages 219-231, March.
    5. Zheng, Buhong, 1997. " Aggregate Poverty Measures," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 11(2), pages 123-162, June.
    6. Kuan Xu & Lars Osberg, 2002. "The social welfare implications, decomposability, and geometry of the Sen family of poverty indices," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 35(1), pages 138-152, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Michael R. Veall, 2007. "Which Canadian Seniors Are Below the Low-Income Measure?," Social and Economic Dimensions of an Aging Population Research Papers 186, McMaster University.
    2. Robson, William, 2006. "Accounting for and Thinking about Social Security Liabilities in Canada," Discussion Paper 285, Center for Intergenerational Studies, Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University.
    3. Marchand, J. & Smeeding, T., 2016. "Poverty and Aging," Handbook of the Economics of Population Aging, in: Piggott, John & Woodland, Alan (ed.), Handbook of the Economics of Population Aging, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 0, pages 905-950, Elsevier.
      • Marchand, Joseph & Smeeding, Timothy, 2016. "Poverty and Aging," Working Papers 2016-11, University of Alberta, Department of Economics, revised 20 Nov 2016.
    4. William B. P. Robson, 2001. "Six Pillars of Social Policy: The State of Pensions and Health Care in Canada," The State of Economics in Canada: Festschrift in Honour of David Slater, in: Patrick Grady & Andrew Sharpe (ed.), The State of Economics in Canada: Festschrift in Honour of David Slater, pages 183-224, Centre for the Study of Living Standards.
    5. Kevin Milligan, 2008. "The Evolution of Elderly Poverty in Canada," Canadian Public Policy, University of Toronto Press, vol. 34(s1), pages 79-94, November.
    6. Ake Blomqvist & Colin Busby, 2014. "Paying for the Boomers: Long-Term Care and Intergenerational Equity," C.D. Howe Institute Commentary, C.D. Howe Institute, issue 415, September.
    7. Michael R. Veall, 2008. "Canadian Seniors and the Low Income Measure," Canadian Public Policy, University of Toronto Press, vol. 34(s1), pages 47-58, November.

    More about this item


    Poverty; Elderly Poverty; Canada; Retirement; Income; Low Income; Low-income; Wealth; Capital Gains;

    JEL classification:

    • O51 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - U.S.; Canada
    • J14 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of the Elderly; Economics of the Handicapped; Non-Labor Market Discrimination
    • J26 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Retirement; Retirement Policies
    • I32 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Measurement and Analysis of Poverty
    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs


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