Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.

The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

Metro Vancouver was more 'middle class' in 1970: study

Metro Vancouver's middle class has shrunk and poverty has become more common in the suburbs over the last four decades, according to data mapped by a University of Toronto Cities Centre research team.

The maps compare the average personal incomes of Metro Vancouver's census tracts in 1970 and 2005. It's one of the first steps in a projected six-year study that will examine the causes and consequences of shifts in personal income across six Canadian cities, according to UBC geographer David Ley, who worked on the project.

The number of tracts (or census spatial areas) with a middle income average dropped considerably overall, from 71 per cent in 1970 to 53 per cent in 2005, according to Ley.

In 1970, the average middle income in Greater Vancouver was $5,220. In 2005, it was $36,123. The averages are calculated among 178 tracts in the Vancouver region.

Ley said that personal income in historically flush areas like North Vancouver and West Vancouver, as well as older neighbourhoods in the downtown core where gentrification has "occurred with a vengeance," has consolidated and expanded, so fewer people of the middle class live there.

Through parts of east Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond and north Surrey, the number of low income tracts has increased and the middle class has decreased.

The spatial distribution of 2005's lower income tracts often follows the Expo and Millenium SkyTrain lines, Ley said.

"We no longer have a single compact low income poverty area," he said. "Now there is a dispersal of poverty into the suburbs: Burnaby, Richmond, Surrey."

Further study is needed to fully understand why the percentage of the region's population that is middle class has eroded significantly, but Ley said there are other demographics at play to consider. For one, Metro Vancouver's new low-income areas tend to have higher populations for whom English is a second language.

"If you look at populations with non-English mother tongues, you see higher figures of 60 per cent and more that coincide with those areas which have emerged as new low income areas, such as north Richmond, north-central Surrey, southeast Vancouver and along the SkyTrain through Burnaby and New Westminster," he said. "Obviously you never get a perfect one to one correlation, but it's quite clear that is a significant driver."

In areas where income has increased 15 per cent or more in the last 40 years, there has been no growth in foreign-born residents (28 per cent in both 1971 and 2005). But in areas where income has decreased 15 per cent or more in the last 40 years, the percentage of immigrant residents has spiked from 24 per cent to 51 per cent.

"What we can see here is that clearly the economic integration of the immigrant population is a big issue in the distribution of the new poverty areas," Ley said.

Maps that compare personal income in Montreal and Toronto show similar dives in the middle class, though the patterns are different. Ley said the next step for researchers is to look for causes and consequences of the trends, and expand the research to other Canadian cities.

You can see some of the maps, hosted by the Globe and Mail, here. The full array of maps will be posted soon here.

Robyn Smith reports and edits for The Tyee.

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus