Population Aging and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)

Don Kerr, Tracy Smith-Carrier, Juyan Wang, Dora Tam, Siu Ming Kwok


The number of beneficiaries on social assistance in Ontario is not of minor importance, with almost a million (964,182) participants province wide in 2016.   The number of persons on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) has rapidly increased, from about 280,000 in 2003 to over 475,000 in late 2016, for a rather dramatic increase of about 70 per cent.  The reasons for this increase in ODSP are not straightforward, although population aging has frequently been cited as an important factor contributing to this growth.  The primary purpose of the current paper is to provide a quantitative fix as to the relative importance of population growth and shifts in Canada’s age distribution to the rather pronounced increase in ODSP participation. We estimate here that demography alone can be considered responsible for only about 28 per cent of the overall growth in ODSP over the 2003-2014 period.  The relatively modest impact of demography was less than initially anticipated in light of the distinct age/sex pattern of ODSP participants and some rather important shifts in the age sex structure of Ontario.  


Disability; Social Assistance; Income support; Demography; Population Aging

Full Text:



CIHI, 2011. Health Care Cost Drivers: The Facts. Ottawa: Canadian Institute for Health Information.

CIHI, 2014. National Health Expenditure Trends, 1975 to 2014. Ottawa: Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Corscadden, Lisa, Michael Wolfson, Michel Grignon, Sara Allin. 2013. Who Uses and Pays for Healthcare Over a Lifetime – and How Does This Impact Income Inequality? Ottawa: Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Das Gupta, P. 1993. Standardization and Decomposition of Rates: A User’s Manual. Washington D.C. Current Population Reports. U.S. Bureau of the Census Series P-23, No. 186.

Denton, Frank and Byron Spencer. 2010. Chronic Health Conditions: Changing Prevalence in an Aging Population and Some Implications for the Delivery of Health Care Services, Canadian Journal on Aging 1:11-22.

Foot, David. 2000. Boom, Bust and Echo 2000. Toronto: Macfarlane Walter and Ross.

Graefe, Peter. 2016. Social Assistance in Ontario. Pp. 111-126 in Daniel Béland and Pierre-Marc Daigneault (eds.) Welfare Reform in Canada: Provincial Social Assistance in Comparative Perspective. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Kerr, Don and Roderic Beaujot. 2016. Population Change in Canada. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Lankin, Frances and Munir Sheikh. 2012. Brighter Prospects: Transforming Social Assistance in Ontario. Toronto: Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario.

Ministry of Community and Social Services, 2016. Mandate Letter, September 2016.

Ministry of Community and Social Services, 2016a. Monthly reports: OW and ODSP.

Public Health Agency of Canada, 2006. Report from the Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System. Ottawa.

Seigel, Jacob. 2002. Applied Demography: Applications to Business, Government, Law and Public Policy. Orlando: Academic Press.

Saraceno, Benedetto., & Corrado Barbui, 1997. Poverty and Mental illness. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 42, 285–290.

Shore, Miles, 1997. Psychological Factors in Poverty. Pp. 305-329 in Lawrence Mead (ed.), The New Paternalism: Supervisory Approaches to Poverty (pp. 305–329). Washington, DC: Brookings Institute Press.

Smith-Carrier, Tracy, 2017. Reproducing Social Conditions of Poverty: A Critical Feminist Analysis of Social Assistance Participation in Ontario, Canada. Journal of Women, Politics & Policy 38:1-24.

Stapleton, John. 2013. More Thoughts on Ontario Social Assistance Caseloads. The Broadbent Blog, January 16.

Stapleton, John. 2013b. The “Welfareization” of Disability Incomes in Ontario: What are the Factors Causing this Trend? Toronto: Metcalf Foundation.

Statistics Canada, 2013. Disability in Canada: Initial findings from the Canadian Survey on Disability. Ottawa: Catalogue no. 89‑654‑X — No. 002.

Statistics Canada, 2016. Annual Demographic Statistics. Population Estimates.

Statistics Canada, 2017. Census Topics: Age and Sex, Type of Dwellings. Census Release. May 3, 2017.

Trovato, Frank. 2009. Canada’s Population in a Global Context. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Whittaker, William ; Birch, Stephen, MacKenzie, Adrian and Gail Murphy. 2016. Cohort Effects on the Need for Health Care and Implications for Health Care Planning in Canada. Health Policy 120:81-88.

Wilson, Chris. 1985. The Dictionary of Demography. Oxford: Blackwell Reference.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15353/cjds.v6i4.382


  • There are currently no refbacks.


The Canadian Journal of Disability Studies is Published by the Canadian Disability Studies Association-Association Canadienne des Études sur l'Incapacité, and is hosted and supported by the University of Waterloo.

ISSN 1929-9192 Canadian Journal of Disability Studies (Online)