Understanding economic inequality for women in Canada's retirement income system: reform, restructuring and beyond


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


Document Type



Master of Laws - LLM




Gendered poverty among the elderly is a statistical fact. Previous studies have identified inequitable treatment of women and insufficient income for unattached elderly women among the most serious shortcomings of the retirement income system. Despite pension reform over the past decade, the gender gap has widened for elderly Canadians whose incomes fall below the poverty line. This thesis seeks to understand the relationship between the laws that govern Canada's retirement income system and the over-representation of elderly women among Canada's poor, and to explore why the retirement income system continues to deliver benefits in a manner that, though expressed in gender neutral language, is systemically unfair to women. The benefits of Canada's retirement income system may be accessed through workforce participation and, in a more limited way, through a spousal relationship. Familial ideology is used as the theoretical framework to examine the role of the laws that govern access to benefits in reinforcing and perpetuating assumptions about women that undermine their economic autonomy. This examination reveals that gendered economic inequality is embedded within Canada's retirement income system because it accepts the social and economic construction implicit in familial ideology of women as economically subordinate to, and dependent upon, men. The relationship between gender inequality and the two modes of delivery of retirement income benefits, during retirement as pension benefits and prior to retirement as tax subsidies that enhance taxpayers' opportunities to accumulate retirement savings, is also explored. A tax expenditure analysis exposes the bias against the economically disadvantaged (mostly women) inherent in delivering benefits as tax subsidies. Additionally, familial, public/private and restructuring ideologies are used as methodological tools to interrogate the reform process which, although ignoring gender issues, paradoxically deepened and compounded the systemic inequalities for women that existed prior to reform. The thesis concludes by offering suggestions for developing a progressive agenda for advancing gender equality within the retirement income system. The limitations of legal action as a strategy for implementing this type of agenda are discussed, and political action is designated as the most promising strategy for achieving progressive reform.


Retirement income -- Government policy -- Canada.; Old age pensions -- Government policy -- Canada.; Women -- Pensions -- Canada.; Women -- Canada -- Retirement.

Date Available



For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.




Law, Peter A. Allard School of