Dictionary, Census of Population, 2021
Low-income status

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


Low‑income status refers to the income situation of the statistical unit in relation to a specific low‑income line in a reference year. Statistical units with income that is below the low‑income line are considered to be in low income.

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 and, depending on the definition used, economic families and persons not in economic families aged 15 years and over in private households, or private households where low‑income concepts are applicable (see Remarks).

Question number(s)

Derived variable


In low income
Not in low income
Not applicable


This variable was referred to as income status prior to the 2016 Census.

Low‑income status can be defined using different low‑income concepts.

In the 2021 Census, five different low-income indicators are available.

Four other lines were defined by Statistics Canada:

Four dimensions generally distinguish the low‑income lines:

They are summarily presented in Table 2.1 Summary of low‑income lines in the 2021 Census of Population.

See also 'Low income lines: What they are and how they are created' and 'Low income in Canada - A multi‑line and multi‑index perspective' from the Income Research Paper Series (Catalogue no. 75F0002M) for detailed definitions and discussions of each line.

Members of an economic family all share the same low‑income status for MBM, LICO‑AT and LICO‑BT.

Members of a household all share the same low‑income status for the LIM‑AT and LIM‑BT.

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.

See also prevalence of low income, low‑income gap and low‑income gap ratio.

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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