Total income of census family

Status: This was the departmental standard from October 15, 2012 to March 20, 2016.


Total income refers to the sum of certain receipts (in cash and, in some circumstances, in kind) of the reporting unit during a specified reference period. The components used to calculate total income vary between:

- Statistical units of social surveys such as, persons, households, census families and economic families;

- Statistical units of business surveys such as enterprises, companies, establishments and locations; and

- Statistical units of the Canadian System of National Economic Accounts (CSNEA).

In the context of persons, households, census families and economic families, total income refers to monetary receipts from certain sources, before income taxes and deductions, during a specified reference period. It includes employment income from wages, salaries, tips, commissions and net income from self-employment (for both unincorporated farm and non-farm activities); income from government sources, such as social assistance, child benefits, employment insurance, Old Age Security pension, Canada or Quebec pension plan benefits and disability income; income from employer and personal pension sources, such as private pensions and payments from annuities and RRIFs; income from investment sources, such as dividends and interest on bonds, accounts, GIC's and mutual funds; and other regular cash income, such as child support payments received, spousal support payments (alimony) received and scholarships. The monetary receipts included are those that tend to be of a regular and recurring nature. It excludes one-time receipts, such as: lottery winnings, gambling winnings, cash inheritances, lump sum insurance settlements, capital gains and RRSP withdrawals. Capital gains are excluded because they are not by their nature regular and recurring. It is further assumed that they are less likely to be fully spent in the period in which they are received, unlike income that is regular and recurring. Also excluded are employer's contributions to registered pension plans, Canada and Quebec pension plans, and employment insurance. Finally, voluntary inter-household transfers, imputed rent, goods and services produced for barter, and goods produced for own consumption are excluded from this total income definition.

Census family refers to a married couple and the children, if any, of either or both spouses; a couple living common law and the children, if any, of either or both partners; or, a lone parent of any marital status with at least one child living in the same dwelling and that child or those children. All members of a particular census family live in the same dwelling. A couple may be of opposite or same sex. Children may be children by birth, marriage or adoption regardless of their age or marital status as long as they live in the dwelling and do not have their own spouse or child living in the dwelling. Grandchildren living with their grandparent(s) but with no parents present also constitute a census family.

Note: When information displays, such as tables, combine information on census families and persons who are not living in census families, the population is called: Census families and persons not in census families.


Where the statistical unit is a household, economic family or census family, total income refers to the sum of the total incomes of all persons who are members of that statistical unit.

When reporting data for census families and persons not in census families in the same data presentation, income categories should be reported using the Classification of Total Income of Household or Family.

Conformity to relevant internationally recognized standards

This standard generally conforms to the recommendations for censuses contained in the United Nations' Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses, Revision 2, 2008. In its definition of income, the UN includes both income in cash and in kind. However, it observes that the collection of reliable data on income is extremely difficult and that "the inclusion of non-cash income further compounds the difficulties." Accordingly, it does not recommend that income information be collected on censuses, but acknowledges that, "depending on the national requirements, countries may nonetheless wish to obtain limited information on cash income." It is this cash income that is the focus of the current standard. The UN Principles goes on to specify that cash income should include: wages and salaries of employees, income of members from producers' cooperatives, income of employers and own-account workers operating business and unincorporated enterprises, interest, dividends, rent, social security benefits, pensions and life insurance annuity benefits as well as social security, pension fund contributions and direct taxes withheld from employees' salaries. All these sources have been included in this standard. The UN does not recommend a particular classification for income but does note in Principles that, due to the assumed approximate nature of the responses (due to the complexity of the question), "it is usually appropriate to use broad income or earnings size-classes." Such broad classes have been used in this standard.

This standard also conforms in general approach to the definition of income proposed in the Canberra Group Handbook on Household Income Statistics, 2nd ed., but is not completely compatible with these recommendations in its specific inclusions. As recommended by the Canberra Group, income is defined: to include only receipts that are recurrent (excluding large and unexpected, typically one-time, receipts); to include components which contribute to current economic well-being but not those, such as employer contributions to pension funds, related to future well-being; and to exclude considerations, such as capital gains or losses, that relate to the maintenance of net worth. The Canberra Recommendations present two lists of the components of income, one reflecting an ideal definition of income and the other an operational definition that could be more easily applied. All sources of income listed in this standard are included on both these lists. However, there are some items in the ideal list that are not in the standard. These are: 1) non-cash income, specifically, imputed income from self-employment (goods and services produced for barter, less cost of inputs, and goods produced for own consumption, less cost of inputs) 2) employers' social insurance contributions 3) net value of owner-occupied housing services (imputed rent) and 4) voluntary transfers from other households. The ideal list includes "current transfers from other households" while this standard lists only two specific types of such transfers: child support payments and spousal support payments (alimony). The Canberra group recognizes that countries may choose not to collect and publish all items in the conceptual list and therefore the standard for total income can differ between countries.

Finally, this standard can be compared to the definition of income presented in the Conference of European Statisticians Recommendations for the 2010 Censuses of Population and Housing, 2006. All the sources of income identified in that document are included in this standard; however, the document differs in defining income as including income in cash and in kind.


  • 'Amount of income' is expressed in Canadian dollars. The data presentation should specify any adjustments made, including whether the unit of measure is current dollars or constant dollars. Amount of income can range from the lowest negative number on the file to the maximum positive number on the file. October 15, 2012 to current


Additional information


Relation to previous version

  • Total income of census family May 26, 2021 to current

    The definition of the statistical unit has been modified. The list of the components of income has been updated.

  • Total income of census family March 21, 2016 to May 25, 2021

    This is an update of 'Total income of census family'. The definition of total income and the classification has been modified and a list of the components of income has been added.

  • Total income of census family October 15, 2012 to March 20, 2016

    This was the departmental standard from October 15, 2012 to March 20, 2016.

Date modified: