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Facts on Poverty and Aging

Unfortunately, Mr.Taylor’s situation is not unusual. As you learned from the video, there are many other senior men and women in Canada who survive on low incomes.

  • 16.8% of Canadians over age 65 live in poverty.[4]

  • This means that as a practicing physician, about 1 in 6 of the elderly patients you see will be affected by poverty. This proportion may be even greater owing to the fact that Canadians living on low incomes visit physicians more frequently.[1]

  • As in other age groups, poverty does not affect senior men and women equally. The rate of poverty in women over 65 is 21.1%, while 11.1% of senior men live in poverty.[4]

  • Unattached (single, divorced, widowed) women over 65 have the highest rate of poverty of any family type in Canada at 45.6%. The rate for unattached men over 65 is also high at 32.8%.[4]

There are many reasons why older women are disproportionately affected by poverty. Women participate in the labour market differently than men, working fewer hours and at lower paying jobs.[2] In addition, women have a primary responsibility for childbirth, child rearing and unpaid domestic work.[5] Both of these factors place women at a disadvantage in a pension system that is tied to labour market earnings.[5] Women also have longer life expectancies,[5] often resulting in married women outliving their husbands, and losing the financially protective effect of being part of a couple.[3]

In the graph below, notice how the rates of poverty in women approach those of men during their working years, only to increase again at retirement[5] .



Can you think of other possible reasons why older women are disproportionately affected by poverty?


1. Federal, Provincial and Territorial Advisory Committee on Population Health. Toward a healthy future: Second report on the health of Canadians. 1999.

2. National Council of Welfare. Pension Primer 1999. Ottawa, Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2002.

3. Canadian Public Health Association. Board of Directors Discussion Paper. Health impacts of social and economic conditions: Implications for public policy. 2001. Ottawa, Canadian Public Health Association.

4. National Council of Welfare. Poverty profile 2001. Ottawa, Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2004.

5. Lochead, C, Scott, K. The dynamics of women's poverty in Canada. 2000. Ottawa, Canadian Council on Social Development.

All references for this section