Dictionary, Census of Population, 2021
Prevalence of low income

Release date: November 17, 2021Updated on: July 13, 2022


The proportion or percentage of units whose income falls below a specified low-income line.

For the 2021 Census, the reference period for low‑income data is the calendar year 2020.

Statistical unit(s)


Reported in

2021, 2016 (100% data); 2011Footnote 1 (30% sample); 2006, 2001, 1996, 1991, 1986 and 1981 (20% sample). For availability prior to 1981, refer to Appendix 2.1.

Reported for

Population in private households where low‑income concepts are applicable (see Remarks)

Question number(s)

Derived statistic


Between 0% and 100%


The prevalence of low income can be calculated for each of the five low‑income lines available in the census for various population groups at different levels of geography.

See also low‑income statusMarket Basket Measure (MBM), Low‑income measure, after tax (LIM‑AT)Low‑income measure, before tax (LIM‑BT)Low‑income cut‑offs, after tax (LICO‑AT) and  Low‑income cut‑offs, before tax (LICO‑BT).

Note that the prevalence of low income based on the Market Basket Measure (MBM) is only available from the sampled population.

Persons living in collective households are considered out of scope, as in the past Censuses, for all of the low‑income concepts because their living arrangements and expenditure patterns can be quite different from those of persons living in private households.

The MBM and LICO low‑income concepts are also not applied in the territories and on reserve because expenditure and price data required for these concepts are not collected in these areas. Starting with the 2021 Census, the LIM low‑income concept was extended to the population living in the territories and on reserve. It is currently the only low-income concept that is applicable to all regions in Canada. For discussion of the limits to interpretation of the LIM, see 'Interpreting low‑income statistics for the on‑reserve and territorial populations using Census and National Household Survey data', and 'Low‑income statistics for the population living on‑reserve and in the North using the 2016 Census' in the Income Research Paper Series, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 75F0002M.

Since the initial publication of the low‑income lines, Statistics Canada has clearly and consistently emphasized that poverty is not something that can be defined by a National Statistical Organization. Instead, defining poverty is the responsibility of the policy departments of the government. In 2018, the Government of Canada released Opportunity for All – Canada's First Poverty Reduction Strategy. In this report, it was recognized that poverty is a multifaceted problem that goes beyond not having enough income. Based on the recommendation of this strategy, the government designated the Market Basket Measure of low income as Canada's official poverty line under the Poverty Reduction Act in 2019. For more information about the official poverty line, see Market Basket Measure (MBM).

As a statistical agency, Statistics Canada's role is to publish measures of low income based on consistent and well‑defined methodology and to update these measures to reflect the current state of the Canadian society and economy. These measures would allow for the reporting of important trends in low income and economic well‑being, such as identifying those who are substantially worse off than average and tracking the changes in composition of those below any given low-income or poverty line over time.

For additional information on various low‑income concepts, see 'Low Income Lines: What they are and how they are created' and 'Low Income in Canada - A Multi‑line and Multi‑index Perspective' in the Income Research Paper Series (Catalogue no. 75F0002M).

For additional information about data collection method, coverage, reference period, concepts, data quality and intercensal comparability of the income data, refer to the Income Reference Guide, Census of Population, 2021.


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