Learn the surprising number of Canadian seniors living in poverty

Close up of senior woman's hands holding walking stick (stock photo)

“Are Canada’s Senior Citizens Underestimated and Underrepresented in Poverty Statistics?”

Many seniors in Canada are struggling to make ends meet, despite official poverty statistics suggesting that they are doing well. Canada’s official poverty line, known as the market basket measure, has failed to accurately represent the distinct circumstances facing seniors, leading to an underestimation of their poverty rates. The problem lies in the choice of measure, and oftentimes reality doesn’t match the statistics.

A Contradiction In Adequacy Measures

Currently, Canada uses two main adequacy measures, the market basket measure and the low income measure. These measures present different perspectives on income adequacy in the country. The low-income measure is a relative measure, based on the quality of life of the general population. It shows that seniors are more likely to have lower incomes than the general population. On the other hand, the market basket measure views seniors as less likely to live in poverty than the general population. The result is a contradiction, with many seniors having incomes above the market basket threshold but below the low-income measure threshold, meaning they are captured in the low-income rate but not in the poverty rate.

Problems with the Market Basket Measure

The market basket measure is tailored to a “traditional” family of four, which does not accurately represent the needs of seniors. This approach does not account for the rising living costs associated with worsening health, which many seniors face as they age. Also, health-related expenses are excluded from the measure, contributing to a misperception of the income that seniors need. As a result, the market basket measure underestimates the poverty rates for seniors.

A Seniors-Specific Measure of Poverty

Canada should consider adopting a seniors-specific measure of poverty that reflects the distinct circumstances seniors in Canada face. This measure could be an entirely new approach tailored to the experiences of seniors, or it could involve adapting existing alternative measures developed by Canadian researchers. As Statistics Canada undertakes its third comprehensive review of the market basket measure, there is a crucial opportunity to redefine and enhance Canada’s official poverty line in a way that ensures the right to an adequate standard of living for seniors. The opportunity should not be overlooked.


Seniors in Canada are often misrepresented in poverty statistics due to an inadequate measure and a failure to account for the unique challenges they face. The choice of measure, in this case, the market basket measure, does not reflect the reality for many seniors, leading to an underestimation of their poverty rates. To address this issue, Canada should urgently adopt a seniors-specific measure of poverty that accurately represents the distinct circumstances facing seniors in the country. This will ensure that no seniors are left behind and that their right to an adequate standard of living is upheld.



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