Population growth: Migratory increase overtakes natural increase

Canadian Megatrends

Population growth = (natural increase=births-deaths) + (migratory increase=immigration-emigration).

While the mathematics of population growth is simple, the dynamics behind the drivers of demographic changes are more complex. Over Canada's 150-year history, there have been many.

In recent times, the contribution of natural increase to population growth has waned as the Canadian population aged and fertility rates declined.  Today, natural increase accounts for less than one-third of Canada's population growth and has ceased to be the major player in the equation.

Meanwhile, migratory increase plays an increasing role in Canada's population growth. Migratory increase currently accounts for about two-thirds of Canada's population growth.

Statistics Canada projects that immigration will not only continue to be a key driver of population growth in the coming years—without it, Canada's population growth could be close to zero in 20 years, as the population continues to age and fertility rates projected to remain below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman.

Chart 1 – Annual average growth rate, natural increase and migratory increase per intercensal period, Canada, 1851 to 2061
Description for Chart 1
Data table for Chart 1
Period Total growth Natural increase Migratory increase Growth related to the addition of Newfoundland and Labrador
1851 to 1861 2.86 2.41 0.44  
1861 to 1871 1.34 1.90 -0.55  
1871 to 1881 1.60 1.82 -0.22  
1881 to 1891 1.12 1.57 -0.45  
1891 to 1901 1.06 1.42 -0.35  
1901 to 1911 2.98 1.82 1.14  
1911 to 1921 2.00 1.86 0.14  
1921 to 1931 1.68 1.39 0.29  
1931 to 1941 1.04 1.09 -0.05  
1941 to 1951 1.99 1.53 0.18 0.27
1951 to 1961 2.67 1.87 0.79  
1961 to 1971 1.69 1.28 0.41  
1971 to 1981 1.22 0.79 0.42  
1981 to 1991 1.15 0.74 0.41  
1991 to 2001 0.95 0.55 0.40  
2001 to 2011 1.11 0.39 0.71  
2011 to 2021 1.07 0.42 0.64  
2021 to 2031 0.92 0.30 0.62  
2031 to 2041 0.79 0.14 0.64  
2041 to 2051 0.73 0.08 0.65  
2051 to 2061 0.72 0.07 0.66  

Strong population growth in three periods

Three periods in Canada's history were characterized by strong population growth: 1851 to 1861, 1901 to 1911, and 1941 to 1961.

First, prior to Confederation, there was strong growth during the 1851 to 1861 period of 2.86% per year, on average, when fertility levels were high and large numbers of immigrants were settling in the West.

Second, in the early 20th century, fertility was still relatively high, averaging almost five children per woman. In addition, between 1901 and 1911, more than 1.2 million immigrants to Canada—mostly from Europe—generated what was then a record migratory increase. Between 1901 and 1911, the population increased 2.98% a year on average, the highest growth on record.

Third, a period of strong population growth occurred following the Second World War (2.67% per year on average). A significant rise in fertility resulted in the post-war baby boom, which continued until the mid-1960s. Fertility rose from 2.6 children per woman in 1937 to 3.9 children in the late 1950s—a level not seen since the beginning of the century. Immigration was also particularly high during the 1950s. In 1957, for example, against the backdrop of the Hungarian Revolution and the Suez Canal crisis, Canada received more than 282,000 immigrants.

Natural increase—once the primary factor behind population growth

For much of Canada's history, natural increase was the primary factor behind population growth. In fact, population growth was entirely a result of natural increase during the last four decades of the 19th century (1861 to 1901) and during the 1930s (1931 to 1941). Throughout these periods, there were migratory losses—more people left Canada than entered the country.

From 1861 to 1901, Canada experienced several waves of immigration, mainly from Europe. Starting in 1880, many immigrants, including some from Asia, entered Canada to work on the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. However, more people, especially those living in Eastern Canada, left the country primarily to settle in the United States. Among the reasons for leaving were the Long Depression (1873 to 1896), the lack of farmland, and the economic lure of American factories. During this period, natural increase was the only contributor to population growth.

During the 1930s, migratory increase was slightly negative as immigration to Canada slowed, particularly because of economic and social circumstances arising from the Great Depression that began in 1929. The number of immigrants admitted to Canada declined considerably, from an average of 123,000 a year during the 1920s to fewer than 16,000 a year during the 1930s. During this decade, natural increase was also at its lowest level, and fertility fell to fewer than three children per woman, on average—a level not previously seen.

Migratory increase—the major engine of population growth since 1999

Population growth caused by natural increase began falling in the late 1960s as a result of two factors. The first was a rapid decrease in fertility in the late 1960s and 1970s, which has remained at a fairly constant level since then. By 1976, fertility had fallen to fewer than 1.8 children per woman.

Chart 2 - Immigration the biggest source of growth since 1991
Description for Chart 2
Data table for chart 2
  Natural increase Migratory increase
1991 206,964 119,652
1992 202,108 150,017
1993 183,482 118,688
1994 178,037 128,093
1995 167,283 137,672
1996 153,320 151,359
1997 132,929 144,041
1998 124,327 107,284
1999 117,719 148,036
2000 109,820 188,749
2001 114,206 232,490
2002 105,199 203,690
2003 109,033 186,383
2004 110,488 189,336
2005 112,044 207,240
2006 126,538 195,469
2007 132,647 200,557
2008 139,269 238,255
2009 142,445 237,938
2010 137,138 221,107
2011 135,562 241,198
2012 132,382 265,920
2013 129,802 274,185

The second factor was a steady rise in the number of deaths, partly due to population aging. As a consequence, migratory increase has taken on an increasingly important role in recent population growth.

The late 1990s was a period of transition, with some years being characterized by higher natural increase, while in other years, migratory increase was greater.

Since 1999, however, population growth in Canada has consistently been driven mostly by the migratory increase (primarily immigration, since emigration levels are low). About two-thirds of current population growth is the result of migratory increase, while natural increase accounts for the remaining one-third.

Population growth in the future could rely even more on migratory increase

According to all scenarios used in Statistics Canada's most recent population projections, natural increase is expected to continue to decline in the future decades. This is largely the result of a projected increase in the number of deaths while the projected number of births would remain fairly constant.

Population aging will accelerate between 2011 and 2031. In 2026, the first of the baby boomers will reach the age of 80—an age typically associated with high mortality. As a result, the growth in the number of deaths will increase.

Based on the medium-growth scenario, migratory increase could account for more than 80% of Canada's population growth beginning in 2031. Without a sustained level of immigration, Canada's population growth could be close to zero within 20 years.


Natural increase: Change in the size of a population owing to the difference between the number of births and the number of deaths during a given period.

Migratory increase: Change in the size of a population owing to the difference between the number of migrants who settle within a geographic area and the number of migrants who leave that same area during a given period.

For more information

Population Projections for Canada (2013 to 2063), Provinces and Territories (2013 to 2038), product no. 91-520-X in the Statistics Canada catalogue.

Contact information

To enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Laurent Martel (613-951-2352), Demography Division.

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