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Seniors

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Canada’s elderly population is growing, a trend that began several decades ago. In 2007, the population aged 65 and older was 4.4 million and seniors made up 13% of the total population. That compares with 11% in 1987 and 8% in 1972.

Canada is one of the ‘youngest’ of the G8 countries, despite the aging of its population. Only the United States had a smaller proportion of elderly people in 2006.

Aging is expected to accelerate over the next few years, particularly when the baby boomers start turning 65. According to a medium-growth scenario, the proportion of seniors in the Canadian population will reach 27% by 2056. The older segments of the population have the fastest growth rates. In 2007, 3% of the population was aged 80 and older. This group could account for 10% of the total population by 2056. Low fertility rates and rising life expectancy are all contributing to the steady increase in the elderly population.

Seniors are generally in better health than a quarter century ago, are more comfortable financially, and lead more active lives than their predecessors. However, as they advance in age, seniors are more likely to be affected by disabilities that prevent them from going about their day-to-day activities normally.

Most seniors are in good health

Life expectancy at age 65 has increased in the last 20 years. In 1985, a 65‑year-old could expect to live another 17 years; in 2005, a person the same age could anticipate living another 20 years. The increase was larger for men than for women.

Most seniors consider themselves to be in very good or excellent health, though they are less likely to report being in good health than are younger people. In 2005, 44% of people aged 65 to 74 described their health as either very good or excellent. Another 34% considered their health good.

In comparison, among people aged 20 to 34—one of the most positive age groups when it came to self-evaluating their health—70% reported being in very good or excellent health, and 25% in good health.

Moreover, 6 out of 10 seniors reported very little or no stress in their lives, compared with about 3 out of 10 people from 25 to 54 years of age.

Many seniors engage in more or less regular physical activity. In 2005, 52% of men aged 65 to 74 were active or moderately active physically, compared with 53% of men aged 25 to 34 and 48% of men aged 35 to 64. Among senior women, 44% of those aged 65 to 74 reported being either active or moderately active physically.

Limitations increase with age

In 2006, 43% of people aged 65 and older had a disability, compared with 12% in the 15-to-64 population. In the 75-and-older age group, 56% were affected by a disability.

The prevalence of most types of disabilities—those related to mobility, agility, hearing, vision and pain—increases with age. In 2006, for example, less than 2% of Canadians aged 15 to 24 had a mobility-related disability, compared with 33% of the 65-and-older group. The proportion jumped to 44% among people aged 75 and older. The percentage of Canadians with memory and speech disorders was 1% in the 15-to-24 age group and 5% in the 75-and-older group in 2006.

The incidence of disabilities related to emotional, psychological or psychiatric conditions declines with age. In 2006, the proportion of people with one of those disabilities was 3% for people aged 45 to 64 and 2% for people 75 and older.

Seniors keep busy

Canadians aged 65 to 74 spend the largest part of their day engaging in leisure activities: 7.8 hours for men and 7.2 hours for women in 2005. In the 75-and-older population, the figures are 8.0 hours a day for men and 7.9 hours for women.

Many seniors take part in social activities or do volunteer work. In 2004, just over half of the population aged 65 to 74 were members of a group or organization, and 39% did volunteer work.

Seniors also provide informal assistance. In 2004, for example, 26% of the 65-to-74 age group helped someone outside their home do housework, maintenance or outdoor work. In addition, 22% of the age group helped care for children.

Seniors are using the Internet more often nowadays. In 2004, 23% of households headed by an elderly person had Internet access, compared with 3% in 1997.

From 2000 to 2003, the proportion of Canadians aged 65 to 74 using the Internet more than doubled from 11% to 28%. The same upward trend occurred among the 75-and-older population, though to a lesser degree. Despite this trend, younger people

were more likely to use the Internet: 80% of those aged 25 to 54 used it in 2003.

Finances are stabilizing

From 1996 to 2006, the average after-tax income of married elderly couples rose 18%, from $40,900 to $48,300.

The increase benefited seniors with the lowest incomes, helping to reduce the incidence of low income in those groups. The proportion of seniors with low income after taxes fell from 10% in 1996 to 5% in 2006. Despite the decline, the incidence of low income remains higher among elderly women living alone (16%). Quebec and British Columbia are the provinces with the highest levels of low income among seniors.

The extent to which seniors maintain their income after retirement varies with age and income level, according to data gathered from 1983 to 2004. For instance, among people with an average income, family income starts falling after age 60, declines until age 68, and then stabilizes at about 80% of what their income was at age 55.

In contrast, seniors with the lowest 20% of incomes saw little variation in their incomes after age 55 and during their retirement years. After retirement, they maintain almost 100% of their disposable income, since their earnings in the years before retirement are replaced with income from a public pension plan, Old Age Security or the Guaranteed Income Supplement.

Financially better off workers—those with the highest 20% of incomes—receive an average of 70% of their pre-retirement income after age 70. For a family of two, this group’s average family income at age 75 was $90,000 after taxes. Forty percent of that income comes from private pension plans and registered retirement savings plans, 28% stems from investment income and capital gains, and 18% is from a public pension plan or Old Age Security.