Consumer Trends Report – Chapter 8: Consumer Net Worth: Summary

Chapter 8 – Consumer Net Worth: Summary

The financial performance of economic family units (and unattached individuals) has been highly variable when comparing the 1984 and 1999 data. Canadians have generally improved their net worth, but most of this improvement is due to gains by the wealthiest fifth of Canadian family units – further evidence of financial polarization in Canada. In contrast, in terms of economic family types, two-parent families with a main income earner younger than age 65 and with children (under age 18) at home had the worst performance in median net worth. As a group, they experienced a marginal decrease (-$100) in their median net worth, and many young two-parent families, in particular, have faced severe financial pressures. While lone-parent families have experienced tremendous growth in their net worth, many still remain in a very vulnerable financial situation. In 1999, their median net worth was still 20 times less than that of two-parent families with children. The evidence also suggests that, on average, young Canadians (regardless of family status) have experienced some weakening in their financial balance sheets, with student loan debt contributing to this trend. Finally, older Canadians (aged 55 and up) have made strong gains in their net worth, while baby boomers (between the ages of 35 and 54) have lost ground when comparing 1984 to 1999.

Research opportunities include investigating whether the relatively weak financial status of many young consumers is a temporary phenomenon or whether this "bad start" will have significant repercussions. The impact of low incomes and low net worth experienced by a number of lone parents would also merit further consideration. The stagnation over the past 15 years of net worth for families with children may also raise long-term issues of financial security, as these consumers move to the next stage of their family life cycle. As for baby boomers, retirement self-sufficiency may become a growing issue requiring further research. Finally, while seniors are generally better off today, trends toward their use of more expensive forms of credit suggests the need for research into how well they are dealing with financial marketplace decisions.