How much money do Canadians think they can make in their life?

Graeme BruceBusiness Data Journalist
April 01, 2020, 7:41 PM UTC

To be part of Canada’s One Percent, you have to make $478,000 a year. Yet, at least 16 percent of non-retired Canadians say they expect to earn more than that at some point in their lives.

That optimism is shown in a new YouGov survey from earlier this year that asked Canadians if they expect to reach certain income levels at any time in their life. The new insights also reveal a stark earnings-potential divide along gender and age lines.

The low end of the survey started at $15,000 or more, which 53 percent of non-retired Canadians say they already make and another 28 percent said they think they will earn this at some point in their lives.

The top end of the survey is $1 million or more, which less than one percent say they already make and another eight percent say they expect to make at some point in their life.

According to Statistics Canada, the median income in Canada was $36,400 in 2018. More than two thirds (69%) of non-retired Canadians either make that or expect to make that in their lifetime. On the flipside, more than one in 10 (11%) said they don’t think they’ll achieve that salary in their life.

For the purposes of this survey, panelists were offered the option of responding with uncertainty (“don’t know”), not disclosing the answer (“prefer not to say”), or noting if it was inapplicable because they did not intend to work (“not applicable”).

Female optimism lags behind, especially at young age

The survey not only highlights the well-documented income inequality between male and female workers in Canada, it also shows female expectations for salaries are lower. When looking at current salary and expected salary, there’s an average 11-percentage-point spread between men and women. This difference in salary optimism along gender lines is actually highest in the youngest generation.

When we further parse the results by age group, the biggest gulf between men and women is in the $90,000+ range: While roughly half (51%) of Canadian men age 18-34 wither currently make or expect to make at least $90,000 in their lifetime, only 22 percent of women say the same. There is a small group that bucks the trend, however. Women age 35-54 are slightly more likely to make or expect to make more than $500,000, compared to men.

Expectations drop with age

In general, as Canadians get older, and fewer working years remain ahead of them, their expectations decrease, the data shows. Take the $100,000 salary as an example: A third of Canadians age 18-34 either make at least that much or expect to. That figure drops to 29 percent among those 35-54 and 21 percent age 55 and older.

The expectations of joining the millionaire club may be the clearest example of this youthful optimism decreasing over time. Among 18-34 year olds, 13 percent say they will earn seven figures at some point in their life. That number drops to six percent among 35-54 year olds and four percent among those age 55 and up.

One in five millennial men in Canada say they’ll hit a million in their life.

Methodology: Total sample size was 1,002 Canadian adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between Feb. 27 and 28, 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Canadian adults (aged 18+). Margin of error is +/- 3%.

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