03/07/2019 09:36 EST | Updated 03/07/2019 12:58 EST

Canada’s System Of Tax Breaks Helps Men Far More Than Women: Study

Women might actually be getting a raw deal on their RRSPs.

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The federal government's system of tax benefits and deductions reinforces gender inequality, a new study argues.

The federal government's system of tax benefits and deductions reinforces and even worsens gender inequality, with men taking 62 cents of every dollar the government spends on tax breaks, a new study argues.

But the study shows that much of the inequity is a reflection of the broader gender inequities in society — the reality, for instance, that men continue to dominate the highest-paying jobs, or that women live longer.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives looked at "tax expenditures" — the various deductions that reduce payers' tax burdens and the benefits the government pays out to some tax-filers. There are 64 of these tax expenditures, and 45 of them had sufficient data to carry out a gender analysis, the CCPA report found.

Of those 45 expenditures, only nine of them paid out more to women than men.

The analysis even found that the popular retirement vehicles known as RRSPs may actually be a much worse deal for many women than men.

Watch: How long will it take to close the gender wage gap? Story continues below.

CCPA chief economist David Macdonald ran a gender-based analysis on Canada's system of tax expenditures — something he said the governing Liberals largely haven't done, despite a vow to look at policy through a gender lens.

"The tax system doesn't get nearly the attention that program spending does," Macdonald told HuffPost Canada.

In many cases, the disparity comes from the fact that men earn more than women, and — as earlier research from the CCPA showed — Canada's tax breaks disproportionately benefit higher earners.

Earlier on HuffPost Canada:

For instance, the government forgoes $755 million in revenue for the employee stock option deduction, and 77 per cent of that goes to men. Stock options are most commonly paid to upper management, so this deduction particularly helps "executives of big companies who are ... dramatically more likely to be men," Macdonald said.

Among the 100 most influential companies on the Toronto Stock Exchange, only one was headed by a woman in 2018, according to a survey from Bloomberg.

Macdonald said Canada's tax system would "likely" be more equitable to women if it wasn't so skewed towards tax relief for higher earners.

A raw deal on retirement plans?

Some of the ways in which the system disadvantages women may be surprising. For instance, Macdonald's research found that registered retirements savings plans (RRSPs) may not be saving women much money on their taxes.

Men get $2.6 billion more in savings from RRSP contributions than they pay in taxes on RRSP withdrawals every year, the study found. But women pay $315 million more in taxes on RRSP withdrawals than they receive in savings from RRSP contributions.

Macdonald says there are two things going on here. One is that lower-earning women may find themselves earning a higher income in retirement, meaning the taxes on their RRSP withdrawals would be larger than the tax savings on the original contributions. The same would be true for lower-earning men.

But in some cases it's women — who earned less than their male partners — drawing from a spousal RRSP. As women live longer than men, they will often end up paying taxes on income their male partner earned.

The tax system doesn't get nearly the attention that program spending does.David Macdonald, chief economist, CCPA

Macdonald found that only one tax break is explicitly targeted towards one gender: The Canada Child Benefit, which is paid out to the mother, or to just one person in a same-sex couple. Because of that — and because women are much more likely than men to be single parents — 97 per cent of the $22.6-billion child benefit is paid out to women.

The CCPA report doesn't lay out any particular policy proposals. Macdonald described the work as a springboard for further gender-based research on Canadian taxes, and a guidepost for policymakers looking to make the tax system more equitable.

"Women tend to live longer, they work more in part-time jobs than men, they tend to be caregivers. You have tax breaks that overlap, or not, on those issues. There's a gender dimension to it."