The Distribution of Income and Taxes/Transfers In Canada: A Cohort Analysis


  • Daria Crisan University of Calgary
  • Kenneth J. McKenzie University of Calgary
  • Jack M. Mintz School of Public Policy, University of Calgary



Who pays and how much? These are crucial questions for any tax system and, given the complexity of the economy, they are also among the most difficult to answer. This paper undertakes an analysis of the distribution of taxes and transfers in Canada using a static approach based on annual income combined with the novel approach of breaking down taxpayers by age cohort. The paper examines how tax rates net of transfers differ by age and income group, and how those rates change over taxpayers’ lifetimes. It clearly reveals the progressive nature of Canada’s tax system. In our base case scenario, when all age cohorts are considered together and transfers are treated as negative taxes, the first two quintiles of the income distribution are net recipients of government transfers with negative net tax rates equal to about -48 percent for the first quintile and -33 percent for the second quintile. For middle to high-income individuals net tax rates are positive and increase with income, from 10 percent for the median group, to 24 percent for the fourth quintile and 34 percent for the fifth quintile. Looking at net tax rates by age cohort, we find that overall the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution is a net recipient of fiscal transfers at all ages. However, on average for individuals 65 and over all but the top 20 percent of the income distribution are net recipients of fiscal transfers, with negative net tax rates. The age related redistributive nature of Canada’s tax system is further emphasized by an examination of the Gini coefficients for each age cohort, calculated here for the first time. Starting at age 30, before taxes and transfers income inequality is found to rise monotonically with age, leveling off at 65. Taxes and transfers reduce the degree of income inequality significantly for all ages, but substantially more so for the elderly due to age related features of the tax and transfer system. If redistribution can be thought of as a one of the fundamental features of the tax and transfer system in Canada, the extent to which it is targeted at the elderly is an important secondary feature.






Research Papers