Special Canada Day Report: How Canada stole the American Dream
The numbers are in. Compared to the U.S., we work less, live longer, enjoy better health and have more sex. And get this: now we're wealthier too.
DUNCAN HOOD | June 25, 2008 |
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To be an American is to be the best. Every American believes this. Their sports champions are not U.S. champions, they're world champions. Their corporations aren't the largest in the States, they're the largest on the planet. Their armies don't defend just America, they defend freedom.
Like the perpetual little brother, Canadians have always lived in the shadow of our American neighbours. We mock them for their uncultured ways, their brash talk and their insularity, but it's always been the thin laughter of the insecure. After all, says University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby, a leading tracker of social trends, "Americans grow up with the sincere belief that their nation is a nation that is unique and special, literally called by something greater to be blessed and to be a blessing to people around the globe." Canadians can't compete with that.
But it turns out that while they've been out conquering the world, here in Canada we've been quietly working away at building better lives. While they've been pursuing happiness, we've been achieving it.
How do we know? You just have to look at the numbers. For our Canada Day special issue this year, Maclean's compared Canadians and Americans in every facet of our lives. We scoured census reports, polls, surveys, scientific studies, policy papers and consumer databases. We looked at who lives longer, who works more, who spends more time with friends, who travels more and who has more sex. We even found out who eats more vegetables. After digging through the data, here's what we found: the staid, underpaid Canadian is dead. Believe it or not, we now have more wealth than Americans, even though we work shorter hours. We drink more often, but we
live longer and have fewer diseases. We have more sex, more sex partners and we're more adventurous in bed, but we have fewer teen pregnancies and fewer sexually transmitted diseases. We spend more time with family and friends, and more time exploring the world. Even in crime we come out ahead: we're just as prone to break the law, but when we do it, we don't get shot. Most of the time, we don't even go to jail.
The data shows that it's the Canadians who are living it up, while Americans toil away, working longer hours to pay their mounting bills.
The wealth numbers, in particular, are shocking. As of 2005, the median family in Canada was worth US$122,600, according to Statistics Canada, while the U.S. Federal Reserve pegged the median American family at US$93,100 in 2004. Those figures, the most recent available, already include an adjustment for our higher prices, and thanks to the rising loonie Canadians are likely even further ahead today. We're ahead mainly because Americans carry far more debt than we do, and it means that the median Canadian family is a full 30 per cent wealthier than the median American family. "The fact that we're now richer is a big reversal," says Jack Mintz, former president of the C.D. Howe Institute and the current Palmer Chair in public policy at the University of Calgary. "It's a huge change in the way we view the world."
Mintz points out that it wasn't all that long ago that we were much poorer than the Americans. Just think back to the 1980s when our dollar was worth 69 American cents, inflation was raging, our real wages were dropping and our productivity was . . . well it was just embarrassing. "From 1987 to 1997 in particular, we had terrible economic growth," says Mintz. "By the time we reached 1999, we were way behind the U.S. in per capita incomes and everything else." Back then, he notes, the newspapers were packed with dire warnings of brain drain. Canadian incomes were so low compared to Americans, our best and brightest were fleeing the country.
Today, it's the reverse, and families such as Eric Nay, his wife, Polly, and their son are moving the other way. Nay, who's 41 and now works as associate dean at the Ontario College of Art & Design in Toronto, says he packed his bags and left his home in tony Monterey, Calif., for a new life in Canada two years ago. And get this: he did it for a bigger paycheque. "The academic salaries here are much higher," he says. "When I was working as an assistant professor in California, I was making $55,000, but in Canada, that magically becomes $70,000."