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Research shows that a greater proportion of Canadians have debt than in previous decades and that their net worth is growing at a relatively slow rate — a situation that may make retirement planning more challenging.

The proportion of Canadians who report being debt-free in their retirement years is dropping, finds StatsCan’s 2019 survey of financial security.

About 57% of senior-led families were debt-free, down from about 73% in 1999, StatsCan said. (Senior-led family was defined as a family where the major income earner was at least 65.)

More than one in 10 senior-led families (about 12%) had a mortgage, compared with about 7% in 1999. Also, more senior-led families owed on a line of credit, carried monthly credit card balances or had instalment debt compared to 1999.

Still, senior-led families were more likely to be debt-free than other family types.

About one-quarter (28%) of Canadian families where the principal earner was age 55 to 64 was debt-free in 2019 — down 11 percentage points from two decades earlier.

Overall, about 30% of Canadian families were debt-free in 2019, StatsCan said.

Housing represented Canadians’ largest debt and asset, which has been the case since StatsCan began monitoring financial security in 1999.

About 62% of families had a principal residences with a median value of $400,000 in 2019, and about 35% held a mortgage with a median outstanding value of $180,000.

The next largest asset was employer-sponsored pension plans, with about half of families having a plan with a median value of $164,900, StatsCan said.

Taking these assets into account, the median net worth of Canadian families was $329,900 in 2019, and senior-led families had the highest median net worth at $840,900.

However, net worth has grown slowly in recent years.

From 2016 to 2019, net worth grew by 1.8% annualized, a growth rate not statistically significant, StatsCan said. “By contrast, from 2012 to 2016, net worth grew 3.5% per year,” it said.

The agency said the results of its survey help reveal which families may be more or less financially vulnerable during the pandemic.

To that end, “Families where no member had an employer pension plan, families who were renters, lone-parent families, younger families and unattached non-seniors had lower net worth than others,” StatsCan said.

Regarding renters, StatsCan found that a difference in median net worth between homeowners and renters remained even when controlling for age.

For those nearing retirement (age 55 to 64), the median net worth of homeowners was $952,100, compared with $40,000 for renters.

“This suggests that renters in this age group have not accumulated a large nest-egg in preparation for retirement,” StatsCan said.