Wealthiest 1% earn 10 times more than average Canadian

The richest of the rich in Canada earn about 10 times more than the average Canadian income of $38,700 and are generally married, middle-aged, white men, the final release of data from the National Household Survey shows.

Canada's rich earn on average $381,300 a year and are mostly male, white and married

The gap between those who can afford luxuries like this Lamborghini sports car being ogled by some Vancouver cyclists, above, and those who can't even come close to doing so is growing in Canada and the U.S. In Canada, the wealthiest one per cent earn an average of $381,300 a year, compared to a meagre $38,700 for the average Canadian. (Andy Clark/Reuters)

For all the growing diversity the 2011 census and related surveys have portrayed in Canada, Wednesday's final release of data from the National Household Survey reveals a contrasting constant: the richest of the rich in Canada are married, middle-aged, white men.

The rest of us are up to our eyeballs in mortgage debt.

Statistics Canada has published the final batch of data from its new and controversial National Household Survey — the survey meant to stand in for the long-form census scrapped by the Conservatives in 2010. The release was delayed for a month because of a glitch in the agency's formulas.

It shows that the median family income in Canada is $76,000 — generally higher in the west than the east — while the median individual income is just $27,600. That means just as many individuals earn less than $27,600 as earn more.

The richest 10 per cent of individuals are making more than $80,400. And the very rich — the 272,600 individuals who make up the top one per cent — are all making more than $191,100.

Those people are making an average of $381,300 each, 10 times the average Canadian income of $38,700. The large discrepancy between the median and the average suggests there is a very small percentage of the super-rich.

A similar income gap was recently highlighted in the U.S. by an analysis of Internal Revenue Service data that found that the divide between the wealthiest one per cent and the rest is the biggest it has been since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The analysis, by economists from the University of California, Berkeley, the Paris School of Economics and Oxford University, found that the wealthiest one per cent saw their income increase by 31.4 per cent between 2009 and 2012 while the income of the 99 percent grew only by 0.4 per cent.

Wealthy conform to traditional family structure

In Canada, the portrait of the rich differs starkly from the portrait of Canadians in general that has been exposed in previous releases of the census and NHS. Data up till now have shown an increasingly diverse population — aging, but also multi-racial, open to unconventional family structures, with women making huge strides in the workplace.

The rich, on the other hand, are a throwback to the old days: overwhelmingly male, between the ages of 45 and 54, almost always married or living in a common-law relationship.

Education clearly pays. Despite recent questioning of the value of university degrees, more than two thirds of the top one per cent had a university degree, compared to 20.9 per cent of the total population. And almost a quarter of those who had a university degree had found a way to work themselves into the top 10 per cent of income earners.

"The high income is really reflective of the old Canada, which is much less diverse," said Doug Norris, chief demographer at Environics Analytics.

But as immigrant populations become more established and as women gain ground in the workplace, the income data will slowly start to reflect the broader diversity of the population, he predicted.

"Over time, I think you'll see that diversity creeping in."

Immigrants making more than median

Already, the NHS shows that second-generation immigrants are making far more money than the national median. And ethnic groups that are well-established in Canada, such as Japanese immigrants, are also well above the median.

As for the other end of the spectrum, the bottom 10 per cent of income earners tend to live in cities, especially Montreal. Low-income neighbourhoods are known for their high proportions of visible minorities and recent immigrants, and a preponderance of single parents.

While the national median annual income for a full-time worker is $50,699, the median for a visible-minority worker is just $45,128. For a First Nations full-time worker, the median income is $41,684.

The highest income in Canada is found in the Alberta oilsands in the census agglomeration known as Wood Buffalo, which  takes in the city of Fort McMurray and surrounding communities, where median family income is $186,782.

It's almost impossible, however, to figure out from the data whether income inequality has increased since the last census in 2006. The government agency refuses to discuss history, and the data released on Wednesday was interspersed with large boxes of warnings not to undertake amateur comparisons.

That's because the NHS data was collected in a voluntary survey that likely has a bias in favour of higher income respondents while the 2006 census was a mandatory survey with fewer biases. Tables buried in a technical document show some measures of poverty climbing over the past five years while another set of tables shows it falling.

"In here, we start with the premise we're not doing trends," said Brian Murphy, a special adviser on income for Statistics Canada. "The NHS, to me, is one piece of the puzzle."

69% of households own home

Norris crunched some of the numbers himself and adjusted for inflation, finding that median family income climbed by about six per cent nationally between the last census and now. The biggest leap was in the Fort McMurray, where median family income jumped 33 per cent. Families in St. John's saw their median incomes rise 18 per cent over the five years.

Statistics Canada does, however, venture to make some basic historical comparisons when it comes to mortgage debt and home ownership.

The NHS shows that 69 per cent of households in Canada own their home, up only slightly from the 2006 census after a long, historical climb in home ownership.

Canadians have paid a price for their tendency to buy instead of rent.

More than 25.2 per cent of households are spending more than 30 per cent of their income on shelter, surpassing the standard measure for having an affordable home. That's up slightly from 24.9 per cent in 2006.

Of those living in an unaffordable home, 83 per cent of them were saddled with a mortgage.

Overall, 58.6 per cent of homeowners were still paying off their mortgages according to the 2011 survey. That's up from 57.9 per cent in 2006 and 55.2 in 2001. In 1991, it was 51.5 per cent.

Toronto was the most costly city to maintain a home, at $1,366 a month, while Trois-Rivières, Que., was the cheapest at $697.