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‘Getting ahead’ can obviously mean a wide range of things to different people, but a couple of metrics we could use to answer this question are: how much money do people in their 20s and 30s make on average, and how many of them are able to own their home.

Here’s a scatterplot of 2011 National Household Survey data showing median incomes and the percentage of households who own their home in major Canadian cities for 3 different young adult age groups (the age recorded is the age of the primary household maintainer).

Inc-HomeOwner scatter

A few observations:

  1. As you’d expect, there’s a positive linear relationship between median income and home ownership rate.
  2. Edmonton and Calgary have the highest median incomes for all age groups, while Saskatoon has the highest home ownership rates. Interestingly, the gap between median incomes in Edmonton/Calgary and Ottawa narrows as age group increases. Purely speculation, but it could be that young people in Ottawa are more likely to start their careers with lower-paying (relative to skilled trades and the energy industry) civil service jobs, but make up the difference as they get older and move into more senior government positions.
  3. In general, income and home ownership increases with older age groups. But there are some pretty large age overlaps between cities with high median incomes and (relatively) affordable housing markets like Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa-Gatineau and cities with lower incomes and/or more expensive housing markets like Vancouver, Montreal, and Halifax.

Based on this scatterplot, it looks like young adults in Edmonton, Calgary, and Ottawa are better able to ‘get ahead’ in terms of income and home ownership than in most other major Canadian cities.

For fun, I also ran these observations through a clustering algorithm to separate them into groups based on their median incomes and home ownership rates. The algorithm works by estimating the central points of 3 income/ownership groups, then categorizing the observations based on their closest central point.

The table below shows the clustering by city and age group. On average, young adults in Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa (and to an extent Saskatoon) outperform their peers in other cities, starting in higher income/home ownership clusters and moving to the next cluster sooner.

Inc-HomeOwner table

Of course, this represents a pretty narrow view of what getting ahead can mean. For some households, getting ahead could mean living in a bigger city, or living close to family, or any number of other life goals. But if those goals include earning a high income and owning a home, it seems like young adults in Edmonton, Calgary, and Ottawa are getting a head start.

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  • Steven Leeming

    Interesting discussion. I wonder if there is a corelation between average winter and summer temperatures, home affrodability and income?