Community Well-Being (CWB) Index - Frequently Asked Questions

Update of the Community Well-Being Index

Q.1 What is the Community Well-Being Index?

The Community Well-Being (CWB) Index is a method of assessing socio-economic well-being in Canadian communities. It combines census data on income, educational attainment, labour force activity, and housing into well-being “scores” for each of the several thousand communities in Canada. The CWB Index was first released in 2004.

It complements the Registered Indian and Inuit Human Development Index (HDI) (Registered Indian HDI and Inuit HDI), developed by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) to compare the average level of well-being of Registered Indians and Inuit with other Canadians. The Registered Indian and the Inuit HDI are based on the United Nations' Human Development Index, a composite index used by the United Nations' Development Program to measure and compare the quality of life in some 170 countries.

CWB Index scores have been calculated for 1981, 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2006. Scores will be calculated for future censuses as data become available.

This new release of the CWB Index is different from the original CWB released in 2004.

Q.2 How is this release of the CWB different from previous release?

This new release of the CWB Index is different from the original CWB released in 2004 because of changes to the education questions in the 2006 Census of Population, thus requiring revisions to the methods of calculation and CWB Index time series (1981-2001). Because of these modifications, this release of the CWB Index is not comparable to previous releases.

A previous version of the CWB Index, which included CWB scores for 1981-2001, was based on a somewhat different methodology.  “Old” and “new” CWB materials can be distinguished by date of release or publication. Old materials were published prior to 2006. The first of the new materials was released in 2009.  New materials are also distinguishable by their inclusion of 2006 data. Old and new CWB scores, and analyses based on those scores, are not comparable.

Q.3 Why was the index created?

Before the first release of the CWB index in 2004, no systematic means of tracking well-being in First Nations and Inuit communities was available. Without such a tool, it was hard to know how different First Nations and Inuit communities are doing, whether things are getting better or worse, or why. The CWB Index is such a tool. It is an important step towards a deeper understanding of the socio-economic conditions in First Nations and Inuit communities and of their well-being relative to other Canadian communities.

Q.4 What are the specific components of the index?

The CWB Index is derived from the Canadian Census of Population. It is composed of the following four components, each of which runs from a low of zero to a high of 100:

Education looks primarily at how many community members have at least a high school education, and secondly at how many have attained a university degree.

Labour force activity looks at how many community members participate in the labour force and how many labour force participants have jobs.

Income is calculated based on total income per capita.

Housing looks at the number of community members whose homes are in an adequate state of repair and are not overcrowded.

Q.5 Why were most community's scores higher in the previous release of CWB data?

This new release of the CWB Index is different from the original CWB previously released in 2004 because of changes to the methods of calculation, leading to a revision of all Aboriginal and non-aboriginal community scores.

These revisions to the CWB methodology and community scores were made necessary because of changes introduced by Statistics Canada to the Education questions on the 2006 census of population. These changes to the census questions were motivated by changes to the educational profile of the Canadian population and to the education system itself, changing demands in the Canadian labour market, data quality concerns from the 2001 Census and availability of other data sources for education. The 2006 census data   on education no longer provides information on educational attainment below high school.

We strongly recommend using the new series of CWB scores since:

  1. It includes 2006 data not previously available in earlier releases of the CWB Index;
  2. Its revised methodology will be the basis of all future CWB analyses produced at Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.

“Old” and “new” CWB products can be distinguished by their date of release or publication.  Old CWB data and analyses were published prior to 2008.  Release of preliminary analysis of the new CWB materials began in 2009.

Q.6 Why are education scores so low?

The Education component of the CWB Index includes two elements. The first and most significant element is high school certification or higher. The second element relates to having a university degree (bachelor's degree).  Education overall scores will tend to be low for First Nations, Inuit and other Canadian communities because only a minority of the adult population has a university degree in Canada.

Q.7 Why include a measure of university education attainment?

Even though university graduation rates are still fairly low in most First Nations and Inuit communities, university completion is an increasingly key credential in the labour market. Therefore, inclusion of this higher level of education allows us to see where progress has been made.

Q.8 Are there other dimensions of well-being that might have been included?

The components included in the CWB are certainly not a complete list of all dimensions of well-being. The CWB is limited to four components (education, housing, labour force and income) primarily because not all dimensions of well-being are measured by the Canadian Census of population which is the only source of data available across time for all First Nation, Inuit and other Canadian communities. The CWB Index represents only one of many ways of measuring well-being. Therefore, while the CWB contributes to the understanding of well-being in First Nations and Inuit communities, it does not define it.

Q.9 How is a community, and more specifically, a First Nation or Inuit community, defined?

For the purposes of the CWB Index, communities are defined in terms of Census subdivisions with a population larger than 65 individuals. Census subdivisions are municipalities or their equivalent (e.g., Indian reserves, Indian settlements, etc). They are classified as First Nations, Inuit or other Canadian communities so that well-being in these different kinds of communities can be compared.

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada produced a list of First Nation communities for each census since 1996.  First Nations are identified in accordance with these lists for the 1996 and later CWB indices.  The 1996 list was also used to identify First Nations for the 1981 and 1991 CWB indices.  1981 and 1991 communities that did not exist in 1996 were identified as First Nations if they were one of the following CSD types: “Reserves,” “Indian Settlements,” “Indian Government Districts,” and “Terres Reservées.”

Inuit communities are not legally defined by INAC, but Inuit have settled four land claims across Canada's North.  These four regions include Nunatsiavut, Nunavik, Nunavut and the Inuvialuit region, and are known collectively as Inuit Nunangat (place where Inuit live).  Each has some form of public or self-government.  For purposes of the CWB, Inuit communities are defined as those communities within these four regions with a population large enough to allow analysis.

All other Census subdivisions are defined as Other Canadian communities.

Q.10 What have analyses of the Community Well-Being Index revealed?

Well-being in First Nations communities is significantly lower than that observed in other Canadian communities.

  • Well-being varies greatly across First Nation communities.
  • Almost all of the lowest scoring (bottom 100) and only one of the highest scoring (top 100) communities are First Nations. 
  • The largest gap between First Nation and other Canadian communities are in housing and income.
  • The well-being gap narrowed between 1981 and 2001, but widened slightly between 2001 and 2006.
  • The level of disparity observed across First Nation communities is greater that that observed with other Canadian communities.
  • First Nations in the prairies lag behind First Nations in other regions in terms of community well-being.

Well-being in Inuit communities is significantly lower than that observed in other Canadian communities.

  • Well-being varies greatly across Inuit communities, and between Inuit regions.
  • No Inuit community rank amongst the highest scoring (top 100) communities in Canada.
  • The largest gaps between Inuit and other Canadian communities are in housing and education.
  • The level of disparity observed across Inuit communities is greater that that observed with other Canadian communities.

Q.11 What is the Government of Canada doing to address issues in First Nations and Inuit communities?

Quantitative and qualitative research projects currently underway are focusing on factors associated with well-being in First Nation and Inuit communities, taking into account the features of communities individually. These research projects will contribute to the development of better strategies for improving the socioeconomic conditions prevailing in these communities.

Budget 2010 provides the practical measures necessary to address the priorities of Aboriginal people in Canada and is backed by an investment of $908 million over the next two years. With these investments, the Government remains determined to make tangible, practical progress in the quality of life experienced by Aboriginal and Northern peoples in this country.

Since January 2006, our government has been working towards improving the quality of life for Aboriginal people and helping stimulate economic growth in Aboriginal communities.

Q.12 Where can I get additional information on the CWB?

You can access a descriptive analysis of the results and a summary of the methodology.

More specific requests for data or information should be directed to INAC's Public Enquiries Centre.

Phone: (toll-free) 1-800-567-9604
TTY: (toll-free) 1-866-553-0554