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A new study says the face of Canada’s wealthiest individuals has changed. Nearly half are immigrants or first-generation Canadians and one-third are women.JENNIFER ROBERTS/The Globe and Mail

Close to half of Canada's high-net-worth individuals are immigrants or first-generation Canadians, says a new study.

The survey conducted for BMO Harris Private Banking found that 48 per cent of the country's affluent – those with investable assets of $1-million or more – are either immigrants (24 per cent) or describe themselves as first-generation Canadians with at least one parent born outside the country (24 per cent).

In the United States, only one-third of the wealthy are either immigrants or first-generation Americans, according to the report.

The poll also concluded that 67 per cent – or two-thirds – of wealthy Canadians are self-made millionaires, with 20 per cent attributing at least part of their wealth to an inheritance.

Survey respondents were asked if their income was self-made or inherited; those identifying themselves as immigrants or first generation were not asked if they made their money in Canada or somewhere else before coming to Canada, said BMO spokeswoman Amanda Robinson.

The report also indicates that women make up one-third of Canada's wealthy, up from 21 per cent three years ago.

"From a private banking perspective, it's clear that the face of wealth in Canada is changing and there is no longer the stereotypical type of high-net worth client," senior vice-president and head of BMO Harris Private Banking Alex Dousmanis-Curtis said in a news release Thursday.

"For generations, many have considered Canada to be a place that provides opportunities for those who are willing to move here and contribute to the growth of the country. The findings of this study confirm this long-standing belief," she said.

Jeffrey Reitz, an expert in immigration, ethnic and pluralism issues, said the results need to be taken with a grain of salt.

"First comment is that the data come from an online survey, and the representativeness of such a survey is difficult to determine. So all the information should be regarded with skepticism," Mr. Reitz – currently Marie Curie International Fellow at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris – said in an e-mail message.

In fact, the data suggest that the proportion of wealthy who are immigrants pretty well matches the proportion of immigrants over 15 in Canada – 24 per cent – said Mr. Reitz, who is a professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto.

And immigrants might actually be under-represented because millionaires tend to be older and the proportion of Canadians over 65 who are immigrants is 30 per cent, he said.

Other findings:

  • One-third of women manage their own investments, compared with 59 per cent of men.
  • Education is a key indicator, with 80 per cent of high-net-worth Canadians having at least a university degree and 46 per cent a graduate or professional degree.
  • Wealthy Canadians tend to be older than their U.S. counterparts: 24 per cent in the U.S. are under the age of 40, versus just four per cent in Canada.

The online survey was conducted by Pollara between March 28 and April 11, 2013 with a sample of 305 Canadian adults who have $1-million or more in investable assets. The margin of error for a probability sample of this size is plus or minus 5.6 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

U.S. figures are from an identical study done during the same period among 482 American adults with $1-million or more in investable assets.