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How has COVID-19 impacted mortality for defined benefit (DB) pensioners in Canada?


Unsurprisingly, the data shows higher than expected deaths in April, May and December 2020. However, on average DB pensioners in our data have seen a smaller increase in 2020 mortality than the general population.

The chart below shows monthly deaths in the Club Vita data set, including preliminary figures for 2020, for pensioners (including surviving spouses) residing in Ontario, aged 65 or older at the time of death. The green line provides a seasonality adjusted trend for deaths over 2015 to 2019, which is extrapolated to 2020.

According to Club Vita’s preliminary data, in 2020 Ontario DB pensioner deaths for those aged 65 or older were 3.2% higher than that expected relative to the 2015-19 trend. In contrast, Club Vita calculates the corresponding statistics for the Ontario population to be 4.7%1.

Key takeaways

  • DB pensioners form a unique subset of the Canadian population. Many DB plans have experienced increased mortality in 2020, but this increase may not be the same as for the general Canadian population.
  • This analysis focused on Ontario. We note there could be material differences in effect between provinces, in particular due to differences in preparedness and lockdown restrictions.
  • Experience has not been uniform for plans within Club Vita’s data, there are plans that experienced an increase in mortality that was much higher than 3.2% while others have shown little or no increase.
  • Plan sponsors should continue to closely monitor the mortality patterns within their pensioner population to understand the specific effect of the pandemic on their plan.

The key questions are:

  • How different are the effects of COVID-19 if we assess DB pensioners by socioeconomic status?
  • Given that Canada’s older population was prioritized for vaccination, will we see the DB population having a much lower increase in mortality in 2021 relative to 2020?
  • What will be the long-term effects (both direct and indirect) of COVID-19 on longevity?

As Club Vita collects more data, we will continue to provide the latest analytics on how COVID-19 is impacting Canadian DB pensioners.

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