New study shows retirement security is colour coded in Canada

Data reveal significant inequalities in income between Indigenous, racialized and white seniors, as well as in retirement savings for adults
June 16, 2021

Indigenous and racialized seniors have less retirement security and higher poverty rates than white seniors in Canada, according to a new study released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“The study clearly shows that retirement security is, in fact, colour coded in Canada,” says report co-author Grace-Edward Galabuzi, who is an associate professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at X University.

The study is the first comprehensive national analysis of retirement incomes and savings for Indigenous and racialized peoples and highlights the substantial inequality between these seniors and white Canadian seniors. Overall, the report finds that Indigenous and racialized seniors’ average income is 25% and 32% lower, respectively, than senior white Canadians’. The data also reveal that public pension sources like the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement play a large role in supporting marginalized seniors.

“The data reveal that there are real consequences of economic marginalization and systemic racism. Elders and seniors are financially insecure in retirement, if they can retire at all, because the opportunities for saving are so limited,” says Hayden King, who is co-author of the report and Executive Director of the Yellowhead Institute.

The study examines the differences among Indigenous and racialized populations and finds:

  • First Nations seniors have an average income of $29,500, Métis seniors have an average income of $35,000 and Inuit seniors have an average income of $35,900, compared to $42,800 for white seniors.
  • Racialized seniors’ average income was $29,200, with a poverty rate of 19.8% compared to 13.7% for white seniors.
  • Chinese seniors, at $28,200, have the lowest income and the highest poverty rate, at 25%, among the groups studied. South Asian seniors had an average income of $29,000, and a 12.9% poverty rate. Average income for Black seniors was $32,400, 24% lower than their white counterparts.
  • There are significant differences in retirement savings. A smaller share of Indigenous households contributed to pension plans or RRSPs than white ones, and those who did made smaller contributions. Fewer racialized than white households were members of pension plans, and those who were had lower contributions than white ones. A slightly larger share of racialized households contributed to RRSPs than white households, while contribution amounts were similar. However, the data show differences in savings among racialized groups.
  • There is a consistent gender gap: senior women had lower income than senior men. While Indigenous senior women’s income averaged 52% of white men’s, racialized women’s income averaged 47%.

The report recommends measures to eliminate barriers to equitable employment opportunities and increase access to workplace-based pension plans and retirement savings. Another part of the solution lies in improving Canada’s public pension plans, since they provide crucial support to marginalized seniors. More and better data collection is also required to better understand retirement savings for Indigenous and racialized people.

“Without these measures, income insecurity will continue to follow Indigenous peoples and racialized Canadians well into their old age,” says report co-author and CCPA-Ontario Senior Economist Sheila Block.

"Economic marginalization and lack of viable employment opportunities for most racialized Canadians will have dire effects on their future prosperity," adds Mohammed Hashim, Canadian Race Relations Foundation Executive Director. "If we continue on this path, it is not only a detriment to their existence; it is a detriment to Canadian society."

"There is a need for systemic change for the current pension mechanisms as well as a holistic approach to equitable employment opportunities and adequate wages for racialized Canadians."

Colour-coded Retirement: An intersectional analysis of retirement income and savings in Canada, by Sheila Block, Grace-Edward Galabuzi and Hayden King is available for download on the CCPA website. The report is based on 2016 census date and builds on the work of earlier CCPA studies on colour-coded wealth and income inequality in Canada.


To arrange interviews contact: Alyssa O’Dell, CCPA Media and Public Relations Officer, at cell 343-998-7575 or [email protected].

This study was funded by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation ( as part of its research mandate in support of the elimination of racism and all forms of racial discrimination in Canadian society.

The CCPA is an independent, non-profit charitable research institute founded in 1980.