Canadian families have become wealthier during the past several years, with net worth rising despite the well-documented growth in household debt and the set-back from the recession, a new Statistics Canada study shows.
In a report that takes a long view on the state of Canadian finances, the agency finds that the 2012 median net worth among family units — of two or more persons — has risen 44.5 per cent since 2005 to $243,800, and almost 80 per cent from 1999.
Those family units have also accumulated more debt, a total of $1.3 trillion in 2012, of which about $1 trillion is mortgage debt, up 41.6 per cent from 2005. All figures are in inflation-adjusted dollars.
Bank of Montreal chief economist Doug Porter said the data show that while household debt remains a vulnerability for the economy as a whole, Canadians families' overall finances are generally in good shape.
"The standout is the tremendous growth in net worth over the 13-year period. It works out to average annual increases of better than five per cent, which is quite impressive," he said.
"To me the bigger picture is that assets remain about seven times the size of debt."
Porter said that doesn't mean household debt is a non-issue, but said its biggest impact on the economy will be to act as a check on consumer spending going forward.
Overall, total family assets in Canada rose to $9.4 trillion in 2012, with the value of families' principle home representing one third of the total assets. Pension assets, including employer plans and private pension plans, made up 30 per cent of the total, while other real estate holdings — rental properties, cottages, timeshares and commercial properties — represent almost 10 per cent.
For those who owned their homes, the median reported value of the residence was $300,000, up 46.6 per cent from 2005 and 83.2 per cent from 1999.
The report also found large disparities in net worth depending on age, the nature of the family unit, and regions of the country.
For instance, median net worth was highest for families where the person with the highest income was 55 to 64 years old in 2012. For that group it came in at $533,600, more than double for the overall population.
British Columbia reported the highest family median net worth at $344,000, more than double families in Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island that came in at $167,900 and $150,300 respectively.
And lone parent families had the lowest median net worth of only $37,000.
In terms of inequality, the report found that the wealthiest 20 per cent of family units accounted for 67.4 per cent of the total national net worth, although that was slightly lower than the 69.2 per cent the top quintile possessed in 2005.
The lowest quintile — the poorest 20 per cent of families — had a small negative net worth, meaning that as a group they had more debts than assets.
That segment of the population saw its family median net worth drop from about $1,300 in 1999 to $1,100 in 2012. By contrast, the top quintile saw its family median net worth rise from $981,400 in 2005 to $1.38 million in 2012.