Dictionary, Census of Population, 2021
Total income

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


Total income refers to the sum of certain incomes (in cash and, in some circumstances, in kind) of the statistical unit during a specified reference period. The components used to calculate total income vary between:

– Statistical units of social statistical programs such as persons, private households, census families and economic families;

– Statistical units of business statistical programs such as enterprises, companies, establishments and locations; and

– Statistical units of farm statistical programs such as farm operator and farm family.

In the context of persons, total income refers to receipts from certain sources, before income taxes and deductions, during a specified reference period.

In the context of census families, total income refers to receipts from certain sources of all of its family members, before income taxes and deductions, during a specified reference period.

In the context of economic families, total income refers to receipts from certain sources of all of its family members, before income taxes and deductions, during a specified reference period.

In the context of households, total income refers to receipts from certain sources of all household members, before income taxes and deductions, during a specified reference period.

The monetary receipts included are those that tend to be of a regular and recurring nature. Receipts that are included as income are:

Receipts excluded from this income definition are:

For the 2021 Census, the reference period for income data is the calendar year 2020, unless otherwise specified.

Statistical unit(s)


Reported in

2021 and 2016 (100% data); 2011Footnote 1 (30% sample); 2006, 2001, 1996, 1991, 1986 and 1981 (20% sample); 1971 (33% sample); 1961 (20% sample).

Reported for

Population aged 15 years and over in private households

Question number(s)

Variable derived based on administrative tax and benefit records received from the Canada Revenue Agency.


Positive or negative dollar value or nil


Information on total income was collected in the 1961, 1971, 1981, 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001, 2006, 2016 and 2021 Censuses and in the 2011 National Household Survey. The major differences between censuses with respect to income are summarized below.


(a) In 2016 and 2021, income data were derived for all households. In previous cycles, income data were only collected from a sample of households, with the exception of households in remote areas and on Indian reserves where 100% households were enumerated.

(b) In 1961, data were collected by canvassers. In subsequent censuses, the main collection method used was self‑enumeration. For 2006 and 2011, two modes of collection were used: self‑reporting and administrative data. In these two cycles, respondents were given the option of allowing Statistics Canada access to tax data files provided by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). In 2006, information from the income tax and benefit returns was used to derive income. In 2011, two administrative files - the income tax and benefit returns and the Canada child tax benefit files - were used as inputs to the estimates. Since 2016, administrative data were the sole source for income data. To enhance population coverage and data quality, an expanded number of administrative files were used to compile income data.

(c) Because of the various options of reporting income for tax purposes to the CRA available to Hutterite colonies, all individuals in them have been assigned zero income between 1981 and 2011.

(d) Income components not available through administrative files, such as non‑taxable provincial benefits and refundable tax credits, were calculated for individuals based on the program specifications and eligibility criteria.

Reference period

Except for 1961, income reported was for the calendar year prior to the census. The 1961 Census gave the respondents the option to report their income either for the 12 months preceding the census or for the 1960 calendar year.

For the 2021 Census, total income and several of other income concepts (including market income, employment income, wages, salaries and commissions, net self‑employment income, government transfers, Employment Insurance benefits and after‑tax income) are also available for reference year 2019 in order to provide baseline information to assess the economic impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic. Income for 2019 is presented in 2020 constant dollars.


(a) The 1961 Census excluded from income estimates all farm households, all collective households and all households in the Northwest Territories.

(b) Prior to 2016, only the 1971 Census collected information on income from institutional residents.

(c) Since 1991, income information is collected from non‑permanent residents. (See the definition for immigrant status: non‑permanent resident.)

(d) In the 2006 Census, the universe also included persons aged 15 years and over living in non‑institutional collective dwellings. However, a processing error set income for persons in residences for seniors to zero.

(e) The 2011 National Household Survey only covered persons living in private households.

(f) Since the 2016 Census, income data were collected for the entire population, but standard products are only based on the population in private households for enhanced comparability between the short‑form and long‑form questionnaires, as well as for data quality concerns surrounding selected collective dwellings. Additional details are available in the data quality section of the Income Reference Guide for the 2016 and 2021 Census of Population.


(a) The 1961 Census did not collect data on income from farming. Therefore, this source of income was excluded from total income in that census.

(b) The 1971 Census, for the first time, included some child benefits (family allowance) in total income. Since then, there has been several legislative and program changes to the child benefits programs.

Summarized below are the child benefits included in total income in different census cycles:

(c) Benefits from wage‑loss replacement plans or income‑maintenance plans are included with wages and salaries since the 2001 Census. In prior censuses, these amounts were included as part of other money income.

(d) Since administrative data were used to obtain income information starting in the 2006 Census, the following changes were made to source income components to better harmonize with the concept of income under the taxation system. Taxable benefits associated with employment, research grants and royalties were since included as part of wages, salaries and commissions. Research grants and royalties were formerly included as part of other money income, while taxable benefits and allowances from employment were formerly excluded.

Regular payments to motor vehicle accident victims from provincial or territorial governments, formerly included in other income from government sources, were since excluded.

Scholarships and bursaries have become over time mainly non‑taxable and unavailable from the tax return. Since the 2016 Census, it has been possible to have them retrieved from additional CRA information slips, and added to market income not included elsewhere.

Another adjustment made in the 2016 Census was the treatment of certain provincial tax credits in Quebec, such as the Quebec childcare expense tax credit and the tax credit respecting the work premium, etc. Instead of removing these credit amounts from any provincial income tax, as was done for past census cycles, these credits were included as income under the government transfers not included elsewhere category since 2016.

(e) Prior to the 2016 Census, income received in the reference period by persons who became immigrants in the census year was not included in total income. Since 2016, due to changes in the income data collection and processing strategies and the non‑availability of the immigration responses for the full population, this condition was not imposed to individuals who became immigrants in the census year. These people might have had income for the calendar year prior to the census as non‑permanent resident.

(f) Various censuses differed with respect to combinations of income sources. For details, see income sources, Appendix 2.4 Components of income in 2020, as well as the dictionaries for previous census cycles.

See also after‑tax income.

(g) The year 2020 saw the introduction and enhancement of several government income‑support programs in response to the economic impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic. In the standard income sources classification, new benefits, such as the emergency and recovery benefits related to the COVID‑19 pandemic, are included in the government transfers not included elsewhere category for the 2021 Census. See COVID‑19 – Emergency and recovery benefits.

Enhancements to existing federal programs, such as Employment insurance, Old Age Security pension (OAS) and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), Canada Child Benefit, and goods and services tax (GST) credit and harmonized sales tax (HST) credit, in response to the COVID‑19 pandemic are included in the respective programs.

See also COVID‑19 – Government income support and benefits for other classifications of government transfers, which set COVID‑19‑related income support programs apart from other government transfer income.

For the 2021 Census, the 'wages and salaries' component of employment income included remuneration to employees in 2020 funded through government COVID‑19 subsidies programs, such as the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), while the 'net self‑employment income' component of employment income included subsidies from various government financial aid programs to support businesses in 2020 in response to the COVID‑19 pandemic, such as the Temporary Wage Subsidy for Employers (TWSE), the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS), and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) that helped cover part of payroll.

(h) In all censuses, the income concept excluded gambling gains and losses, lottery prizes, money inherited during the year in a lump sum, capital gains or losses, receipts from the sale of property, income tax refunds, loan payments received, lump‑sum settlements of insurance policies, rebates received on property taxes, refunds of pension contributions as well as all non‑taxable 'in kind' benefits, such as free meals, living accommodations, or agricultural products produced and consumed on the farm.

(i) Total income excludes any returns (positive or negative) incurred in registered tax‑free savings accounts (TFSAs). It was not possible to separate capital gains or losses, which is not considered as income in the standard definition of total income, from other forms of income within a TFSA.

For more information about the income sources that are available for the reference year 2019, and for additional information about COVID‑19 benefits, data collection method, coverage, reference period, concepts, data quality and the intercensal comparability of the income data, please refer to the Income Reference Guide, Census of Population, 2021.


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