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July 2002     Vol. 3, no. 7

Falling behind

Wendy Pyper

  • One in 6 Canadian families fell behind two months or more in a bill, loan, rent or mortgage payment in 1998. Couples without children had the lowest incidence (10%), female lone-parent families had the highest (32%). However, most of the differences between family types were eliminated when the characteristics of the families were controlled for. The one exception was female lone-parent families who were 1.3 times more likely than couples with children to have fallen behind.
  • Larger families (three or more children) differed significantly from families with two children, even after key characteristics such as income and age were controlled for. The absence of children was associated with a lower probability of falling behind.
  • Age and education of the major income recipient (MIR) remained important after other characteristics such as family type, income and net worth were controlled. Older families and older unattached individuals were less likely to have difficulty making timely payments. Families in which the MIR had a university degree had a 40% lower probability of falling behind than those in which the highest level was high-school graduation.
  • When families were placed in quintiles based on net worth, those in the bottom quintile (negative or low net worth) showed a 6 times higher incidence of falling behind than those at the top of the distribution. Surprisingly, 5% of families in the top of the distribution also fell behind. The median family income of those who made their payments on time was almost 50% higher than the income of those who did not. However, after other family characteristics were controlled for, after-tax income and net worth were associated with only small differences in the probability of falling behind.
  • For most family types, the rate of falling behind for those who had previously declared bankruptcy was roughly twice as high as for those who had not (30% compared with 15%). This was not the case for female lone-parent families, where the rate was high even for those who had never declared bankruptcy (40% compared with 31%). After other characteristics were controlled for, families with a previous bankruptcy were 1.6 times more likely to have trouble keeping up with their payments. Unattached individuals who had declared bankruptcy were twice as likely to have fallen behind.


Wendy Pyper is with Labour and Household Surveys Analysis Division. She can be reached at (613) 951-0381 or

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