AS a result of the rapid increase in the number of people 65 years of age and older since 2011, 2016 marked the first time that the census enumerated more seniors (5.9 million) than children 14 years of age and younger (5.8 million), according to Statistics Canada.
For the first time, the share of seniors (16.9%)—the share they represent of the total Canadian population—exceeded the share of children (16.6%). The increase in the proportion of seniors from 2011 to 2016 was the largest observed since 1871—a clear sign that Canada’s population is aging at a faster pace.
The 2016 Census enumerated 23.4 million 15 to 64 year olds, or 66.5% of the total population. This was down from 68.5% in 2011.
In addition to the baby boomers getting older, these lasting changes are also due to two other trends that will likely continue in the future. The increasing life expectancy of Canadians is gradually bringing the number and proportion of seniors upward, while continuous low fertility rates since the 1970s limit the number of children and drives down their share in the overall population.
Although 30 years of sustained immigration has had a significant impact on Canada’s population growth, it did not have much influence on the aging of the population for two reasons. First, immigration flows have been relatively stable since the late 1980s. Secondly, most immigrants arriving in Canada are in their thirties and grow older here in Canada.
Many aspects of Canadian society are being shaped by the fact that the first baby boomers turned 65 in 2011 and many of them have now left the labour market. More Canadians are receiving an old age pension and are seeking more health care and services. Meanwhile, proportionately fewer people are working and paying income tax. Housing and transportation needs are changing, as is consumption, which is shifting towards goods and services for seniors. The number of families made up of couples whose children have left home is also on the rise.
The first baby boomers turning 65 in 2011 led to the largest increase (+20.0%) in the number of people 65 years of age and older in Canada in 70 years. By comparison, Canada’s overall population grew by 5% from 2011 to 2016 and the number of children 14 years of age and younger increased by 4.1%.
Other generations also had an influence on the size of age groups. For example, the population aged 40 to 49 decreased from 2011 to 2016, as people who reached these ages (people born in the late 1960s and early 1970s and often referred to as “generation X”) are smaller in number than their predecessors, the baby boomers.
Centenarians were the fastest-growing population from 2011 to 2016 (+41.3%). This population has been growing rapidly for many years, mainly due to the gradual increase in life expectancy.
One in four Canadians could soon be 65 years of age and older
In 1871, four years after Confederation, more than two in five Canadians were 14 years of age and younger and 3.6% of the population was 65 years of age and older. The life expectancy of Canadians at the time was 40 years and only one in three people reached the age of 65. Today, life expectancy is over 82 years, and 9 in 10 people can expect to reach 65 years of age.
According to population projections, the difference between the number of seniors and children is expected to increase. By 2061, there could be 12 million seniors and fewer than 8 million children.
By 2031, close to one in four Canadians (23%) could be 65 years of age or older, while the proportion of children 14 years of age and younger could remain similar to the 2016 level (16%). The share of people aged 15 to 64 will likely continue to decrease.
Canadian population younger than most G7 countries
Despite the recent acceleration in population aging, Canada had a lower proportion of seniors in 2016 than any other G7 country except the United States.
On account of higher fertility over the past 30 years, the proportion of seniors in 2016 was lower in the United States than in Canada. The average fertility in the United States was 2 children per woman, compared with 1.6 in Canada.
The Canadian population will continue to age rapidly until 2031 and the proportion of seniors could eventually equal the level now seen in Japan.
Japan stands out among all other countries in that it has the oldest population in the world, with one in four people 65 years of age and older. The combination of very low fertility and the highest life expectancy in the world explains why Japan has an older population than elsewhere.
The share of people aged 15 to 64 was also higher in Canada than in other countries.
This situation could be an asset for the Canadian economy, as the country still has a large working-age population (people aged 15 to 64) and a smaller share of children and seniors than elsewhere.
An increasingly female population
Given that women have a longer life expectancy than men, the aging of the Canadian population is also changing the distribution by sex.
Since the mid-1970s, there have been slightly more women than men in Canada. In 2016, women accounted for 50.9% of the total population. This proportion is likely to continue to increase as the large generation of baby boomers grows older.
Among people 65 years of age and older, the number of women exceeded the number of men by more than 20% and there were two women for every man in the 85-and-older population. However, there are major differences between certain regions of Canada.
B.C.: High concentration of very old people on Vancouver Island
In Western Canada, the population of British Columbia is older than the population of the Prairie provinces.
In 2016, the proportion of seniors (18.3%) in British Columbia was similar to Eastern Canada. British Columbia also had the lowest proportion of children 14 years of age and younger in Western Canada.
For many years, British Columbia has had the highest life expectancy among the provinces and territories, as well as lower fertility.
In some municipalities on Vancouver Island, over two in five people were 65 years of age and older in 2016.