Aging population sets new census records

A new report from Statistics Canada shows that our country now has a higher proportion of seniors than ever before — but are we really surprised?

Chances are you’re already well versed on the greying of Canada’s population — and you’re probably tired of terms like “silver tsanami”. We know that the oldest of baby boomers have already crossed the age 65 threshold, and Canada’s largest demographic group will present some challenges as they age. We also know that our life spans are getting longer too. Today’s seniors are living longer than ever before.

In case there was any doubt, here’s how the latest numbers look.

People over 65 make up more of the population

According to 2011 census data, seniors made up 14.8 per cent of the population in 2011 — up from 13.7 per cent in 2006.

Of course, our population as a whole has been growing — at a rate of growth 5.9 per cent overall — but that average isn’t so evenly spread out when you look at different age groups. The number of children age 14 and under saw an increase of just .5 per cent. In contrast, people ages 15-64 — the “working age” population — saw an increase of about 5.7 per cent. (Of course, the definition of “working age” is a bit of a misnomer thanks to more people delaying retirement – but we digress.)

Seniors, on the other hand, saw their numbers increase by more than 14 per cent from 2006 to 2011. For now, children age 14 and under still outnumber their elders — 5,607,345 versus 4,945,060 in 2011 — but experts note the gap is closing.

What’s behind the numbers? Experts say it isn’t just that a large glut of the population is getting older — our birth rates are lagging too. Over the past 40 years since the baby boom, Canada is has seen a below-replacement-level birth rate. Then there’s the influence of increasing longevity.

Working age population aging too

You’ve likely noticed that the 15-64 working age category covers a lot of generations — including the baby boomers. According to the 2011 census data, over 42 per cent of our working age population are between the ages of 45 and 64. As tends to happen when you’re dealing with baby boomers, that’s a new record high.

Furthermore, the make up of our workforce looks different two. There are more people between the ages of 55-64 than there are workers between the ages of 15-24 — though by a relatively modest margin of 4,393,305 to 4,365,585. (Bear in mind that the stats only look at number of people, not who is employed or not.)

And here’s the scary part when it comes to pensions: In 2001, there was an average of 1.4 workers entering the workforce for every retiree. Fast forward ten years later and now there is an average of .99 people entering the workforce for each person leaving it. With the way our population demographics are going, we’re sure you can guess how that proportion might look ten years from now.

Centenarians the second fastest growing age group

Did we mention people are living longer than ever before? The proof can be found in among Canada’s oldest citizens. In 2001, there were 3,795 people over the age of 100 living in Canada. By 2006, that number had jumped to 4,635. In 2011, there were 5,825 people over the age of 100 still living in Canada.

While the number of centenarians is comparatively small compared to other age groups, the numbers show an impressive increase of nearly 26 per cent from 2006-2011. The only age group that bested that number was people aged 60-64 with a nearly 30 per cent increase.

And, as you might expect, women in this age group outnumber men 5 to 1 thanks to their longer life spans.

How we stack up against other countries

We know the “silver tsunami” doesn’t just affect Canada — it’s a widespread phenomenon. However, our numbers don’t necessary align with our fellow G8 countries. According the the report, we still have one of the lowest proportion of seniors in our population compared to countries such as the the U.K, France and Italy. Only Russia and the U.S. have lower proportions of seniors than we do, and Russia was the only G8 country that didn’t seen an increase in the number of seniors among its population.

For now, the bulk of Canada’s population is in that “working age” group — and that’s not a bad thing. Experts say the baby boom was a little bigger in Canada than elsewhere, and most baby boomers are still under age 65.

Hope in the younger generations?

But wait… here’s a surprise in the statistics: 2011 saw the greatest increase at the other end of the age spectrum since the baby boom. Children age four and under saw their ranks swell by 11 per cent from 2006-2011. Among all the age groups under age 50, these youngsters had the highest increase.

What can we learn from this report?

By now you may be thinking: the numbers are nice, but you didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. However, we need those numbers because we need to have proof. After all, the point of completing a census is to spot demographic trends and plan accordingly. Numbers give us something to talk about, and we desperately need a conversation about the upcoming challenges an aging population presents.

We hear a lot about the “big problems” such as health care and pensions, but the aging-related issues trickle down to every level, from better sidewalks to much-needed products and services.

“We have to think about it everywhere, in everything we do, including government, including business,” said Lynn McDonald, director of the Institute for Life Course and Aging at the University of Toronto, in an interview with the Canadian Press.

“We’re still not ready,” warned Verena Menec, director of the Centre on Aging at the University of Manitoba, in an interview with CBC News. “This is interesting, because we’ve been talking about this for decades.”

But are we ready? Not by a long shot, say experts. If you’re watching the news today, chances are you’ve seen headlines like Aging population a potential health-care time bomb and As Canada ages, 65 no longer gateway to the golden years. There’s going to be a lot of debate, a lot of rhetoric and even some mud slinging in the coming years.

Hopefully, we’ll also see the much-needed changes that will accommodate these demographic trends.


Want to dig into the numbers? Find out how things look for each province? Have a look at the Statistics Canada press release and the full report, The Canadian Population in 2011: Age and Sex.

Photo © Wackerhausen

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