by Martin Turcotte and Mireille Vézina
What you should know about this study
For every person who moved from a municipality outside Toronto to Toronto, 3.5 made the opposite move
New parents are among those most likely to leave the central municipality
Lone parents are more inclined to remain in the central municipality
Lowest-income and highest-income persons were less likely to have migrated to a surrounding municipality
Those who had completed college or had a bachelor's degree, more likely to leave a central municipality
Artists and the university professors more likely to remain in central municipalities
In the Montréal CMA, francophones are more likely to leave the city of Montréal than anglophones and allophones
In the Montréal and Vancouver CMAs, persons born in Canada are more likely to leave the central municipality
Childless couples are more likely to migrate to a central municipality
Profile of the population of central municipalities and surrounding municipalities in the Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver metropolitan areas
After the Second World War, and over the next several decades, the demographic growth of North American residential suburbs occurred as a result of the relocation of individuals and families from city centres or other areas. In society today, many of those who were born in the suburbs may never leave their original area, or may relocate, but continue to reside in a suburb to raise their families.1 At the same time there continues to be a migration of many young adults and families from central municipalities to surrounding municipalities, while few move in the opposite direction. These intrametropolitan migratory movements are one of the reasons for the discrepancy between the the cities and suburbs with respect to family representation. In fact, the 2006 Census data show that households consisting of a couple with children continued to be more strongly represented in outlying areas than in city centres in practically all of the country’s urban areas.2 This discrepancy in family composition is particularly noticeable between central and surrounding municipalities in the Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver metropolitan areas (for a definition of the concepts of central and surrounding municipalities, see ("What you should know about this study").
Various large metropolitan municipalities vie for residents by advertising the attractions and services their environments offer. Additionally, many central municipalities try to reverse the current migratory trend and encourage young adults and their families, particularly those with children, to settle there. For example, the city of Montréal has put a community family action plan in place to attract young families to locate there.3 The cities of Toronto and Vancouver have developed programs focused on child care services to attract new migrants.4
Currently, there is little detailed information available about the social and economic characteristics of young adults who move from central municipalities to surrounding municipalities. To fill this gap, this article looks at the intrametropolitan migration of persons aged 25 to 44 (in 2006) in the country’s three largest metropolitan areas—Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver.5 This group is of particular interest because they are significantly more likely to move from downtown to a surrounding municipality, and they are at an age where they are establishing families and buying first homes. As a result, they are a particularly sought-after 'clientele' for all municipalities, both central and outlying.
This article uses the 2006 Census of Population data (for more details on the data and concepts, see " What you should know about this study"). Geographic maps are included to clarify the distinction between central municipality and surrounding municipality for each of the three metropolitan areas studied.6
The data used come from the full 2006 Census questionnaire (completed by 20% of Canadians). People living in collective dwellings (hotels, hospitals, military bases, etc.) in 2006 are excluded from the study.
Census metropolitan area
A census metropolitan area (CMA) is formed by one or more adjacent municipalities located around a large urban area (known as the urban core). A CMA must have a total population of at least 100,000 of which 50,000 or more must live in the urban core.
Central municipality and surrounding municipalities
The central municipality or downtown gives its name to a census metropolitan area. It is generally the historic city, around which the suburbs have developed (with some more remote villages joined by urbanization). In this study, the territory included in central municipalities is bound by the administrative or political boundaries of the cities of Toronto, Montréal or Vancouver. The term 'surrounding municipality' is used to refer to all other municipalities in the metropolitan area (in other sources, these are sometimes called suburban or peripheral municipalities).
Migration and population studied
Migrants are identified by comparing their current place of residence to the one they had five years earlier (as reported in the 2006 Census). Since this study concerns intrametropolitan migration, only persons who resided in the same metropolitan area in 2001 and 2006 were included.
The main group of interest consists of persons who resided in the central municipality of their metropolitan area (i.e. the cities of Toronto, Montréal or Vancouver) in 2001. These persons are considered migrants if they resided in any municipality adjacent to the metropolitan area in 2006. They are considered non-migrants if they still resided in the central municipality (a change of address within the central municipality is not considered migration).
Likewise, persons who resided in any municipality adjacent to the central municipality of the three metropolitan areas were studied.
In addition to municipality of residence five years earlier, the census includes information on place of residence one year earlier. The analyses performed in preparing this article were replicated using mobility over a one-year period rather than five. This results in smaller proportions of persons moving from the central municipality to a surrounding municipality (since using this methodology, residents 'risk' moving in a single year rather than five). However, the conclusions are the same whether a one- or five-year reference period is used. Thus, the subgroups with the greatest probability of migrating from the central municipality were essentially the same in all 3 CMAs. The advantage of using a five-year period is that analysis can be based on larger samples, thus allowing for more details on the various characteristics of persons who do or do not migrate (Tables A.1, A.2 and A.3), and the destinations chosen by migrants (Table A.6).
That being said, whether a one-or five-year reference period is used, care must be taken in interpreting certain results. The characteristics of persons were measured in 2006 while the decision to move (or not) was made before the census date. Thus, some personal characteristics might have changed. For example, their income might have been higher or lower when they left the central municipality than when income was measured in 2006.
The exchange ratio (Tables A.1, A.2 and A.3) is the number of persons who moved from a central municipality to a surrounding municipality divided by the number of persons who moved in the opposite direction. For example, if, for a given group of persons, 5,000 moved from the central municipality to a surrounding municipality and 2,500 others moved in the opposite direction, the exchange ratio would be 2 (5,000/2,500). In this case, the exchange ratio may be interpreted as follows: for each person who moved from a surrounding municipality to a central municipality, two persons moved in the opposite direction.
Exchange ratios may be affected by the population size of the two regions being compared (in this case, the central municipality of three metropolitan areas and the surrounding municipalities). For that reason, they must be interpreted with care. In particular, it is not recommended that the exchange ratios of the three metropolitan areas be compared to each other.
Numerous demographic studies have shown that age is one of the factors most strongly associated with the probability of migrating. In fact, migration is most frequent in early adulthood when people are experiencing transitions such as pursuing postsecondary studies, entering the labour market and family formation.7 The tendency to migrate decreases considerably once these stages have been completed.
It is not surprising that age was observed to be strongly linked to the possibility of moving from the municipalities of Toronto, Montréal or Vancouver to a surrounding municipality. Examination of the adult population aged 20 and over showed that the propensity to move to a surrounding municipality increases up to age 34 and then decreases in the older age groups (Chart 1).
In all three regions, the population aged 25 to 44 was more likely than any other age group to move from a central municipality to a surrounding municipality. According to a recent survey, single homes located in low-density residential neighbourhoods continued to be the type of housing most sought after by persons aged 25 to 44.8 The supply of this type of housing is greater in surrounding municipalities than downtown (see, for example, Table A.4).
The three CMAs studied differ significantly from each other with respect to their geography, size of population aged 25 to 44 and distribution of that population between the central municipality and surrounding municipalities. In 2006, 1.6 million persons aged 25 to 44 were enumerated in the Toronto metropolitan area (51% resided in the central municipality), 1.1 million in the Montréal metropolitan area (48% resided in the central municipality) and 630,000 in the Vancouver metropolitan area (32% resided in the central municipality).
Despite these differences, the proportion of 25- to 44-year-olds who moved from the central municipality to a surrounding municipality was the same in all three regions (i.e., 14%) (Tables A.1, A.2 and A.3). The proportion of persons in this age group who moved in the opposite direction—that is, from a surrounding municipality to the central municipality—was about three times lower: 5% in Toronto and Montréal, and 4% in Vancouver.
A comparison of moves in the two directions found that the three central municipalities suffered a net loss of 25- to 44-year-olds to surrounding municipalities. For example, in the Toronto region, for each person who left any of the surrounding municipalities to settle in the central municipality, 3.5 persons made the opposite move (see exchange ratio, Table A.1).
Previous research has shown that family structure is a crucial factor in the decision to migrate.9 Among the various factors considered in this study, family status was among those that most strongly affected the probability of leaving a central municipality (Tables A.1, A.2 and A.3). The finding held even when the effects of age, income and other factors were taken into consideration.
In all three CMAs, individuals who became parents for the first time between 2001 and 2006 were among those most likely to have left a central municipality. For example, over this period in the Vancouver region, between 27% and 29% of new parents left the city of Vancouver to settle in a surrounding municipality. In comparison, only 8% of persons living alone relocated to surrounding municipalities—about three times less. In the Montréal region, the difference was more pronounced: 34% of persons who became parents of two or more children between 2001 and 2006 left the central municipality compared to 7% of persons living alone (Table A.2).
Table A.2 Characteristics associated with the probability of moving from the municipality of Montréal to a surrounding municipality in the metropolitan area between 2001 and 2006 for persons aged 25 to 44
Several reasons might help explain why parents of young children were more likely to leave the central municipalities. For example, according to previous studies, it is often the desire for more space to accommodate a new family situation that persuades new parents to move to areas where larger houses are more readily available and cost less.10 In addition to a need for space, many new parents choose a residential neighbourhood farther from downtown because they want to live close to other families (who have needs similar to theirs)11 and because they perceive these areas as being safer, better suited to raising children and, in some cases, less noisy.12
When children get older and the family is complete, the probability of moving, whether a short or long distance, decreases considerably. The results show that persons who were already parents in 2001, but did not have other children during that period, were less likely than new parents to move from a central municipality to a surrounding municipality (Tables A.1, A.2 and A.3).
One type of family stands out from the others: single-parent families. These families were less likely than average to move from a central municipality to a surrounding municipality. This lower propensity to migrate was not explained by lower incomes. In fact, even at similar income levels (taking other factors like education into account), single-parent families continued to be less likely to have left a central municipality (Tables A.1, A.2 and A.3).13 According to a study conducted in the Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver regions, lone parents were more interested in living in denser neighbourhoods than two-parent families.14 One possible explanation for this may be that single-parent families may have less time available for commuting, maintaining a house or garden.
According to one classic economic theory, persons and households vote with their feet—i.e., they choose to live in a municipality that offers them the type of environment they want, with the best price-quality ratio (the desired service levels and types at a cost deemed satisfactory, in municipal taxes).15.Different family situations can create different needs, thus leading to some of the differences between family types in the propensity to leave central municipalities.
Apart from age and family status, family income is a key factor affecting the decision to move: higher incomes allow households and families to choose the type of housing they prefer and where they want to live.16 Conversely, having too low an income makes it difficult to buy a vehicle, which is often essential to living in low-density suburbs.17 Whether in Toronto, Montréal or Vancouver, persons with the lowest incomes (less than $20,000 after taxes)18 were the least likely of all to have moved from the central municipality to a surrounding municipality (Chart 2). In Vancouver, for example, only 9% of persons in the lowest income category migrated from the downtown area. In comparison, the proportion was twice as high, 18%, for those with after-tax incomes between $80,000 and $99,999 (Table A.3).
Table A.3 Characteristics associated with the probability of moving from the municipality of Vancouver to a surrounding municipality in the metropolitan area between 2001 and 2006 for persons aged 25 to 44
In each of the three CMAs, the highest proportion of moves to surrounding municipalities occurred in families having after-tax incomes between $70,000 and $99,999. In Montréal, for example, persons in this income bracket were about five times more likely to have moved to a surrounding municipality than those who had after-tax incomes of $20,000 or less.
Despite the positive correlation between income and the probability of leaving the central municipality, this trend reversed at the top of the income scale. That is, those with the highest incomes were less likely to move to a surrounding municipality. For example, in Toronto and Vancouver, those with the highest after-tax incomes were less likely to have migrated to a surrounding municipality than were, on average, all 25- to 44-year olds residing in the central municipality in 2001.
This reversal at the top end of the income scale may be because these individuals and families are more likely to be able to afford housing in more central areas where properties of equivalent size generally cost more.19 For most households, a compromise must be made between distance from downtown and desired residence size. For wealthier families, this compromise can be avoided since they can more easily purchase relatively spacious housing close to downtown. Additionally, persons with incomes at the top of the scale may place a higher premium on the possibility of access to certain 'luxury' services and consumer goods (restaurants, clothing, etc.) that are often found in densely populated central areas.20
If the analysis is restricted to only new parents (i.e., those who had a first child or more between 2001 and 2006), the impacts that 'family status' and income have on the probability of leaving a central municipality are evident. For example, in Montréal, among new parents who had their first two (or more) children between 2001 and 2006 and who had an after-tax income between $50,000 and $99,999 more than 40% moved from the municipality of Montréal to a surrounding municipality (Chart 3).
In each of the three metropolitan areas, persons who completed their college or bachelor’s studies (Tables A.1, A.2 and A.3) were more likely to leave the central municipality. The finding was the same when the effect of other factors—income, age and family status—was taken into account. The many benefits of postsecondary education are well known—higher income, greater job security, better working conditions and, in general, better health.21 The migration of those with diplomas or undergraduate degrees to surrounding municipalities is likely a result of them having more stable incomes, since much of the housing available in suburban municipalities requires a stable income.22
On the other hand, whether in Toronto, Montréal or Vancouver, the most educated were slightly less likely to leave the central municipality. For example, in Montréal, when other factors were kept constant in the logistic regression, the odds of moving to a surrounding municipality were 49% lower for persons with a master’s degree or doctorate than for those with a college diploma. This might be because those with the highest levels of education may place a premium on the amenities typically found in city centres such as museums, concert halls, and a wide variety of restaurants, and are more willing to pay more or live in lower-quality housing in order to be close to them.23
According to some urban affairs experts, large cities and metropolitan areas should do everything they can to train, attract and retain members of a certain 'creative class', i.e., scientists, engineers, artists and knowledge industry workers, because their presence would improve quality of life and possibly increase the variety and number of well-paid jobs.24 Influenced by this idea, many large cities have developed marketing strategies aimed at attracting these workers by highlighting the cultural vitality and cosmopolitan nature of their cities.25
As shown in Table A.5, artists who were living in a central municipality were likely to remain there. Whether in Toronto, Montréal or Vancouver, creative and performing (musicians, dancers, actors) arts professionals were among those least inclined to migrate to a surrounding municipality (6%). Interestingly, arts, culture, sports and recreation managers were also less likely to leave the central municipality (7% in Montréal, for example), which was not the case for senior managers in other industries (19% in the Montréal metropolitan area). It should be noted that in all three metropolitan areas, significantly more artists aged 25 to 44 resided in the central municipality than in a surrounding municipality. For example, in 2006, in the Toronto CMA, 76% of creative and performing arts professionals resided in the central municipality (results not shown).
University professors also stood out from other professions. In fact, in all three CMAs, less than 7% moved between 2001 and 2006. In comparison, their colleagues at the college, secondary and elementary levels were almost three times more likely to move to the suburbs, possibly partly because of the location of the institutions where they worked (since many colleges and secondary schools are found in surrounding municipalities, while many universities are in the central municipality).
Francophones—i.e., persons whose mother tongue is French—represented about two-thirds of the total population of Montréal’s metropolitan area (65.7%) in 2006.26 However, their relative weight was not the same everywhere. While they were a slight minority on Montréal Island, they were clearly in the majority on the northern and southern tips.
This situation is partly explained by the fact that francophone Montréalers aged 25 to 44 have a greater tendency than anglophones and allophones to leave the city of Montréal (17% for francophones compared to 11% for anglophones and allophones, Table A.2). Moreover, when they left the city of Montréal, francophones were more likely to move to municipalities off Montréal Island, such as Longueuil, Terrebonne or Repentigny. Thus, while only 3% of persons whose mother tongue was French who left the city of Montréal chose a municipality on Montréal Island, 26% of anglophones and 11% of allophones did so (data not shown).
When mother tongue is taken into account along with family status and income, the differences among the groups are more pronounced. Almost one-half of all new francophone parents with incomes between $50,000 and $99,999 left the city of Montréal for a surrounding municipality between 2001 and 2006 (45%). The corresponding proportions were 26% for allophones and 30% for anglophones.
In general, the reasons why members of certain immigrant communities are attracted to suburban residential areas are very similar to those of non-immigrants: the possibility of becoming a home owner, lower housing prices and areas perceived to be safer for children.27 Access to ownership is also considered by many as a mark of social integration and economic success in the host society.28
Historically, non-immigrants were more closely associated with the exodus to the suburbs. That view still quite accurately describes the situation in Montréal, where non-immigrants were more likely to leave than immigrants, regardless of their place of birth. For example, in that CMA, 18% of non-immigrants aged 25 to 44 left the central municipality compared to only 6% of immigrants from South Asia.
On the other hand, in Toronto, immigrants, particularly those from South Asia (22%) and the Middle East (18%), had the greatest propensity to move from the city of Toronto to a surrounding municipality (only 11% of Torontonians born in Canada had become 'ex-Torontonians' in 2006).
Finally, in Vancouver, the propensity of non-immigrants to move approached that of immigrants born in certain specific regions (South America, Middle-East, South Asia), but exceeded that of immigrants of other origins.
In the Toronto and Vancouver regions, several municipalities outside the central municipality have large immigrant populations (both in number and proportion).29 This has an effect on the propensity to move from the central municipality, since immigrants are more likely to choose municipalities where immigrant groups already constitute a large part the population.
Data on the municipalities chosen by persons who relocated from a central municipality gives a better understanding of this situation (Table A.6). For example, in the Toronto CMA, 21% of immigrants who moved from the municipality of Toronto to a surrounding municipality chose the municipality of Brampton (compared to only 9% of non-immigrants). Similarly, the municipality of Markham was chosen by 19% of immigrants who moved from the city of Toronto, compared to 7% non-immigrants who relocated from the city of Toronto.
In Vancouver, proportionally more immigrants chose the municipalities of Richmond and Burnaby, two municipalities with the highest immigrant populations in Canada.
Finally, in the Montréal region, the municipality of Laval was significantly more popular with immigrants who moved from the city of Montréal (41% chose Laval) than among non-immigrants who decided to leave the central municipality (16% chose Laval).
While new immigrants (those who arrived in Canada between 2001 and 2006) were not included in this study, it should be noted that about 7 out of 10 new immigrants choose to settle in the Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver CMAs. Additionally, a majority of new immigrants settle in the central municipality of these three CMAs, despite the growing popularity of the surrounding municipalities.30 Moreover, these newcomers contribute greatly to maintaining demographic growth in those central municipalities.
Up to this point, emphasis has been placed on the characteristics of persons who were more likely to move from a central municipality to a surrounding municipality. But it is equally interesting to examine those individuals who move in the opposite direction—that is from the surrounding areas to the central municipality.
In each of the three municipalities examined here, between 4% and 5% of persons living in a surrounding municipality in 2001 relocated to a central municipality in 2006 (Tables A.1, A.2 and A.3). Generally speaking, the people least inclined to move from their municipality to a central municipality were those aged 40 to 44, those who were already parents in 2001 (and thus had children aged 5 or over in 2006) and those who also worked in a non-central municipality.
New parents living in a surrounding municipality in 2001 were also less inclined than average to migrate to the central municipality. For that reason, in central municipalities, the departure of new parents far outweighed the arrival of parents from surrounding municipalities. The exchange ratios (last columns in Tables A.1, A.2 and A.3) illustrate this. In the Montréal area, for example, for every new parent of two or more children who left a surrounding municipality for downtown, 17 moved to the suburbs.
Non-family persons (mostly those living alone), younger people and childless couples were more likely to move from a surrounding municipality to a central municipality. After leaving their parents’ home, but before becoming parents themselves, many people choose to live near downtown to finish their education or start a first job. For them, the city might represent a place of transition.31 Single people might prefer downtown life for all kinds of reasons, one of which is that this environment allows them to meet other people more easily.32 Also, people living alone might more easily find housing that suits their financial situation and lifestyle in a central municipality since more rental housing is available in the core than in most neighbouring municipalities (Table A.4).
In the three CMAs, those in the lowest income bracket, (under $20,000) were more likely than others to move from a surrounding municipality to a central municipality. In Montréal and Vancouver, the number of persons with incomes under $20,000 who migrated from a surrounding municipality to a central municipality was slightly higher than the number of those moving in the opposite direction (exchange ratio less than 1).
More generally, there are many other reasons why residents of surrounding municipalities move to a central municipality such as shorter commuting distances or a desire to change lifestyles. In fact, many people like urban living and its cultural offerings, as well as the street culture found in certain neighbourhoods with their public spaces, cafes and greatly diversified populations.33 These factors help attract new residents and also may encourage people already living in the central areas to remain.
Previous research has repeatedly shown that the populations of North American suburbs have never been as homogeneous as is commonly believed.1 This homogeneity has decreased even more so in recent decades because the population are is rapidly diversifying in terms of demographic, economic and cultural points of view.2 The stereotypical image of suburbanites—i.e. young, non-immigrant, middle or upper class families consisting of married couples with two kids – corresponds less and less to reality. Despite this diversification, differences remain in the demographic and socioeconomic profile of the populations of central municipalities and their surrounding municipalities.
First, in the three metropolitan areas, the population aged 0 to 19 is slightly underrepresented in the central municipality compared to surrounding municipalities. For example, in 2006, 22% of residents of the municipality of Toronto were under 20 years of age compared to 28% in the surrounding municipalities (results not shown).
Among the 25- to 44-year old group, fewer parents were observed in central municipalities than in surrounding municipalities. For example, in Toronto, 38% of persons aged 25 to 44 lived as couples with children. The corresponding proportion was 57% in the surrounding municipalities (Table A.4). Conversely, a larger percentage of those living alone or with roommates were found in the central municipalities. For example, in 2006, 29% of persons aged 25 to 44 residing in the city of Montréal lived alone or roomed with others compared to 13% in surrounding municipalities.
In all three metropolitan areas, persons born in Canada to parents also born in Canada (non-immigrants) were less represented in central municipalities than in surrounding municipalities. This gap was particularly large in the Montréal area where non-immigrants represented less than one-half of the central municipality’s population (45%). In comparison, non-immigrants represented 74% of the population in Montréal’s surrounding municipalities. The corresponding proportions were 29% in the central municipality and 34% in the surrounding municipalities in the Vancouver CMA.
Central municipality residents were more likely to have finished university (but slightly less likely to have finished college and just as likely to have finished high school) (Table A.4). Paradoxically, however, residents of central municipalities were more likely to have low income after-tax than those in surrounding municipalities.
In terms of housing, central municipality residents were much more likely to rent, more inclined to live in an apartment building and more likely to live in apartments with two or fewer rooms. Finally, those living in the central municipality were more likely to also work in the central municipality and were much more likely to use public transit or walk to work (Table A.4)
The migration of individuals and families from central municipalities to the suburbs is an important issue for urban planers. From the central municipalities’ point of view, it is important to clearly understand the characteristics of people moving to surrounding municipalities in order to better target action aimed at countering such movements. From the surrounding municipalities’ point of view, it is useful to understand the characteristics of the residents in order to better plan for the appropriate infrastructure and services that may be required.
In Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver, this study has shown that among people living in a central municipality in 2001, those aged 25 to 44 were particularly likely to move to a surrounding municipality. In all three metropolitan areas, almost 1 person in 6 in this age group left downtown and moved to a surrounding municipality. There was significantly lower likelihood of moving from a surrounding municipality to a central municipality, with no more than 5% of people doing so in the three metropolitan areas studied.
The propensity to move to a surrounding municipality varied considerably depending on people’s social and economic characteristics. Those most likely to move were new parents, people with a college or vocational school diploma, and those with after-tax incomes between $70,000 and $99,999. In Montréal, non-immigrants were more likely than immigrants to leave the central municipality, while the opposite was true in Toronto. In Montréal, more francophones than anglophones or allophones left the central municipality for the one of the surrounding municipalities.
Those who relocated to the centre were more likely to be younger, living alone or with room-mates or have with low income.
Mireille Vézina and Martin Turcotte are analysts in Statistics Canada’s Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division.