Albertans carry the most debt relative to their assets, according to data released Thursday by Statistics Canada.

At 20.4 per cent, Alberta had the highest debt-to-asset ratio of any province in 2016.

"Since 2012, this ratio decreased at a slower pace than the national average, as growth in the value of real estate in Alberta was lower than the national average growth in real estate," Statistics Canada said in a release.

The numbers weren't particularly surprising to ATB chief economist Todd Hirsch, who noted higher debt levels are to be expected in a province like Alberta, which has a younger population than the rest of the country.

"We have more people in that 25 to 45 cohort, and that's generally the time of life when you're accumulating debt," Hirsch said.

"You're adding mortgages and you're buying cars and baby strollers and soccer balls."

Alberta also has fewer retirees, he noted, relative to its overall population.

"And retirees are generally the ones that are de-accumulating their debt and saving," he said.

Mark Kalinowski, a financial educator with the Credit Counselling Society in Calgary, said the recent recession also plays a role.

"Where people have lost their jobs, where their income has been reduced as they found new jobs, perhaps, outside of the oil sector, where our real estate has to some extent corrected ... it seems to make sense that we'd have higher debt than some of the other provinces," he said.

Kalinowski expects that as the economy turns around, Albertans will start paying down more of their debt.

With files from Jennifer Lee