By Gudrun Schultz

Canada is aging, and fast. Five years ago the median age in our society was 37.6. Now it’s 39.5, and the gap is widening quickly. According to the 2006 Census report released last month by Statistics Canada, children will likely be outnumbered by those over 65 in about 10 years. The number of people aged 65 and older grew by more than 446,700 since 2001, an increase of 11.5 percent. For the first time, there are more than four million seniors in Canada (4.3 million.)

When Canadians in the baby boomer generation begin turning 65 by about 2011, the senior population category is expected to soar. Canadians aged 55 to 64 make up the fastest growing section of the population, increasing by 25 percent since 2001 to 3.7 million people. Total population growth, by comparison, was 5.4 percent over the past five years. The number of Canadians over 80 has also climbed 25 percent since 2001, to more than one million.

The number of children in the country has continued to fall—just 17.7 per cent of the population is under the age of 15. In 2001, children under fifteen made up 19.1 of the population. Canadian children declined by nearly 146,000 over the past five years, dropping 2.5 percent to 5.6 million.

Nova Scotia has the least number of children per seniors, with just 106 children under 14 for every 100 seniors over the age of 65. Newfoundland and Labrador have the lowest proportion of children overall, at 15.5 percent. Nunavut has the highest, at 33.9 percent. Nunavut and the Territories have the highest ratio of children to seniors, due to the higher birth rate and lower life expectancy. Yukon Territory has 250 children per 100 seniors, Northwest Territories 502, and Nunavut topping the chart with 1235. Nunavut has also seen the greatest reduction in the child-to-senior ratio, however, dropping from 1654 children per 100 seniors in 2001.

The economic impact of Canada’s aging population is expected to be significant. Labour force population projections for the period from 2006 to 2031 anticipate a “sharp” decline in the number of Canadian workers beginning in 2031. In a study published in the June edition of the Canadian Economic Observer, all four projected scenarios saw the number of workers for every retired person aged 65 or older drop by half between 2005 and 2031, falling from about four workers per senior today to just above two in 2031.

The low fertility rate in the country, along with the increased life expectancy rate and the influx of baby boomers into the retirement bracket, together create an inevitable downward spiral of workforce participation..

Canada’s birth rate is one of the lowest in the world, with just 1.5 children per woman, well below the replacement level rate of 2.1. Despite the pile-up of statistics showing a rapidly graying Canada, Statistics Canada pointed out that Canada is the second youngest country in the Group of Eight, surpassed only by the United States.

First published in the July/August issue of LifeCanada News. Reprinted with permision