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Bloom Blog

Childhood disability linked to slower earnings growth later in life

By Louise Kinross

Canadians diagnosed with a disability in childhood see little growth in what they earn during their mid 30s and 40s, while incomes for those without childhood-onset disabilities (COD) grow steadily until their late 40s and early 50s, a recent study in Health Economics finds.

The Statistics Canada study found the largest income growth differences between men with and without COD who had university degrees. They also found people with learning, developmental, mental health or memory disabilities had earnings that grew less quickly than those with physical disabilities, regardless of their sex or level of education.

Researchers were able to link data from the 2017 Canadian Survey of Disability with individual income tax records from 1989 to 2017. There were 146,571 Canadians aged 20-64 without COD in the study, and 6,183 Canadians who had been diagnosed with a disability before age 16. "The analytical strength and unique element of the study lie in the comparison of the earnings growth profiles of individuals with and without COD spanning their entire working lives, from the age when individuals generally enter the labour market to the age when they typically retire," the authors write in a summary.

Men with COD earned about 3.6 times more in their late 40s than at age 20, while the incomes of men without COD grew 4.2 per cent larger during the same period.

Women with COD earned 2.8 times more in their mid 40s compared to when they were 20, while women without COD earned 3.2 times more.

A separate fact sheet released by Statistics Canada this past June described the pay gap between persons with and without disabilities. Based on data from the 2019 Canadian Income Survey, disabled Canadians aged 16 and older had an average annual income of about $11,500 less than non-disabled Canadians—a 21.4% pay gap. People with cognitive disabilities earned 46.4% less than those without disabilities.

The Health Economics study on earning potential did not identify why the income of Canadians with COD is less quick to grow than those without. However, based on research literature, the researchers suggest Canadians with COD may have less opportunities to participate in on-the-job training, to be promoted, or to move to other jobs where they can earn more money.

Lead author Sung-Hee Jeon explained in an e-mail message: "When individuals with COD do find an employer who can accommodate their disability, they may have limited power to negotiate higher wages as prospective employers may factor in the costs associated with providing necessary workplace adjustments. Moving to another location to take a higher-paying job may also be more difficult for [people] with COD who may rely on family, community support and... health and social services, and may find challenges finding these in a different location."

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