Getting Older

The aging population

For the first time in history, there are more Canadians aged 65 and over than there are under the age of 15. That was the finding of a Statistics Canada report released in the autumn of 2015.

The report by Canada’s statistical information agency captured headlines, garnering attention and soliciting reactions from across the country.

“It’s a major change,” says Laurent Martel, Chief of the Demographic Analysis and Projections Section at Statistics Canada. “It’s an obvious demonstration that the population is getting older on average,” Martel says about the report.

To understand the demographic projections made by Statistics Canada, it’s important to understand how the agency measures populations and why.

Canada’s Population Characteristics

Currently, Canada has 35 million inhabitants, with more than a third located in Ontario.

Growth Rate

The population growth rate in Canada is an interesting phenomenon. The growth rate is about 1 per cent each year, and this has been true for the last 15 years. Canada’s growth has been fairly stable, putting Canada among the G8 countries with the highest population growth. “The United States is close to us, but we have in Canada, over the past 15 – 20 years, a higher population growth than what we have observed in most European countries,” explains Martel. Canada has a sustained population growth whereas countries like Japan have exhibited a negative population growth rate.

Immigration Rate

Two thirds of Canada’s  population growth is related to immigration levels, which are, compared to other industrialized countries, quite high. Canada’s immigration rate is approximately 7.5 per thousand. In other words, every year the country admits more than seven newcomers for every thousand people already living in the country. That puts Canada, along with Australia, among the countries with the highest immigration rate in the world. “That leads to a fairly important population growth,” states Martel.


Another important characteristic of Canada’s population is the fact that it is culturally diverse. Fifty years ago, most of Canada’s immigrants came from European countries. Today, most of the nation’s immigration is coming from Asian countries. “There were shifts in the source countries of immigration in Canada,” explains Martel, which has in turn led to an increasingly diversified population. 

If the current immigration level stays the same, Statistics Canada contends that two dramatic shifts will continue to take place in the Canadian population.

First, the proportion of foreign-born Canadian citizens will increase (currently around 20 per cent).

Second, the number of people who belong to a visible minority group will increase. In 1981, less than 5 per cent of Canadians belonged to a visible minority group. Today, this number is closer to 20 per cent. In some areas, such as Toronto for example, the last set of projections by Statistics Canada show that in the census metropolitan area, 60 per cent of the population could belong to a visible minority group by 2031. “That’s a majority,” states Martel.

Young Population

“We also have right now a fairly young population,” says Martel. Our population is especially youthful when compared to other industrialized countries such as some in Europe and specifically Japan, which has one of the oldest populations among industrialized countries.

Canada’s Aging Population

Today, Canada has a fairly young population, but despite that, it will age very fast in the coming years. This demographic trend is unique to Canada and the United States of America due to the baby boom that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s. The baby boomers are right now in their late fifties and early sixties, but they are progressing to older age. As Canada’s baby boomers age, the proportion of seniors, those aged 65 and over, will increase dramatically in the next 20 years.

As Canada ages, there will be distinct trends exhibited in the nation’s population in the next five, ten and 20 years. Laurent Martel describes what Canada can expect in the labor market, aging population as a whole, Canadian society, and government revenues.

“We expect that the proportion of seniors could be somewhere between 25 and 30 per cent by 2036.” – Laurent Martel

The Impact

Activity limitations and a range of health care service needs are only two “issues” related to these trends that Laurent Martel mentions in this video.

“Everybody knows it [aging] is likely to have an impact on the health care system, funding of the health care system, retirement, but also in lots of other, different places,” states Martel.

In the following video, Martel explains the impacts of Canada’s aging population.

“In the next twenty years, the proportion of those oldest old which are 80 and over – among the 65 and over age group – it won’t change too much in the next 20 years. But after that, it will start to change dramatically, it will start to increase. By 2046, two persons out of five – of age 65 and over – will actually be aged 80 and over.” – Laurent Martel, Statistics Canada

Nicole Bernier is the Research Director of the Faces of Aging program at the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP). The Faces of Aging Program examines the very demographic trends that Laurent Martel describes and researches their implications for public policy and society at large.

Aging is one of the most important changes that is happening in Canada explains Bernier, but it is not something that should be said is a “big problem”.  Instead, says Bernier, “We have to consider how we’re going to adapt to this, and what needs to be done.”

The Faces of Aging program conducts forward-looking research. It is currently assessing the impacts of aging for the year 2019. “The issues we can see pretty clearly and there are many things that can be done, but the IRPP has identified two axis of research that are active within this program,” Bernier says. The first is the issue of care. How are we going to provide care for Canada’s aging population? “Care issues are critical,” says Bernier, “What kind of care is needed with our programs in place, what are the gaps, what do we need, what do we need to think about?” Bernier asks. “There are an endless number of topics within this area of care issues.” The second set of issues may be less obvious, but it is perhaps just as important as the first: local implications of aging. For example, local transportation. How will municipalities adjust bus routes to accommodate seniors?

“We’re adapting to immigration, we’re adapting to a slower or faster economy. We’re adapting constantly, all the time.” – Nicole Bernier

So far, when it comes to aging, Bernier contends that governments have been very slow to respond to the important shifts that are taking place. “If there is no response for care needs, for example, and this is one area where there is a lot of pressure on the federal government to design a care strategy for Canada, a lot of people will suffer, that’s for sure.”

However, Bernier says that a lot can be done with existing resources. “With good management of our potential resources, we could do a lot more than we are doing right now,” Bernier says.


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