Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report
Senior Women

by Tamara Hudon and Anne Milan

Release date: March 30, 2016

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Introduction

The population in Canada, as in many industrialized countries, is aging, and this will accelerate in the coming years. An aging population has implications for many wide-ranging areas such as health, care giving and receiving, housing, transit and financial circumstances. Although the population of both women and men is aging, women are overrepresented among the senior population aged 65 and over compared with men.

This chapter of Women in Canada examines many aspects related to senior women in Canada, including their socio-demographic characteristics, life expectancy, living arrangements, social participation, Internet use, health, assistance with daily living and leading causes of death, as well as economic characteristics such as their labour force participation and income. The focus will be on recent patterns, with discussion of historical trends where appropriate, including selected analysis by ethnocultural diversity, Aboriginal identity and geographic region.Note 1

Data are from a wide variety of sources, including the 2011 Census of Population, the 2011 National Household Survey, vital statistics, population estimates and projections, as well as a number of other surveys including the Canadian Survey on Disability, the General Social Surveys on Social Identity, on Giving, Volunteering and Participating, and on Caregiving and Care Receiving, the Labour Force Survey, and the Canadian Community Health Survey.Note 2

Population aging is gaining momentum

The population of both females and males in Canada continues to age. On July 1, 2015, 3.2 million of Canada’s 5.8 million seniors aged 65 and over were women (Table 1), accounting for 54.7% of this age group and 17.5% of the female population.

According to the medium-growth (M1) scenario of the most recent population projections, population aging in Canada would gain momentum during the next 15 years.Note 3,Note 4This period reflects the movement of the large cohort of baby boomers born between 1946 and 1965—aged 50 to 69 in 2015—into their senior years. The first wave of the baby-boom cohort reached age 65 in 2011. By 2031, projections show there would be 5.1 million senior women, representing 53.0% of the population aged 65 years and over and 24.2% of the total female population. By 2061, 6.7 million of the 12.8 million seniors would be women, accounting for 52.4% of the senior population and 26.6% of the total female population.

Beyond the movement of the baby-boom cohort through the age structure, there are several other reasons for population aging in Canada. Since 1972, Canada has had sustained below replacement level fertility,Note 5 which from a demographic perspective, means that not enough babies are entering the age structure to replace their parents, leaving the population to grow older. In addition, overall lower mortality rates throughout the life course over the past century has resulted in higher life expectancy for both females and males, meaning that more people are not only surviving to age 65, but are spending many years as a senior.

On July 1, 2015, there were more senior women aged 65 and over (17.5%) than girls aged 14 and under (15.5%), a shift which first occurred in 2011 (Chart 1).Note 6,Note 7 More than four decades earlier, in 1971, senior women comprised 8.9% of the female population while girls aged 14 and under accounted for more than triple this share, at 28.8%. According to the medium-growth scenario of the most recent population projections, the gap between these two age groups would continue to widen in the coming decades. By 2061, more than one-quarter (26.6%) of the female population would be seniors and the proportion of girls would remain relatively stable at 15.0%. For males, the share of boys continues to exceed that of senior men. Specifically, on July 1, 2015, 14.7% of the male population were seniors and 16.6% were boys aged 14 and under.

On July 1, 2015, of the 1.5 million people aged 80 and over in Canada, that is, the “oldest old”, nearly 922,000 were women, accounting for 5.1% of the total female population and 29.2% of senior women. Among the total male population, 3.3% were aged 80 and over on July 1, 2015.

Not only is the proportion of senior women overall projected to increase, but so is the share of women aged 80 and over. The medium-growth scenario of the most recent population projections indicates there would be 1.5 million women aged 80 and over by 2031, and 2.6 million women in this age group by 2061. In fact, the share of females aged 80 and over is projected to become closer to that of girls aged 14 and under in the coming decades. As a share of senior women, those aged 80 and over would peak at 41.4% in 2046, before starting to decline slightly as the large cohort of baby boomers exits the age structure and is replaced by smaller cohorts.

Differences in mortality and life expectancy between women and men become increasingly apparent across the senior years. At ages 65 to 74, women slightly outnumbered men on July 1, 2015, with the gap widening at ages 75 and over (Chart 2). More than 6 in 10 (62.2%) seniors aged 85 to 89 were women on July 1, 2015, as were nearly 9 in 10 (88.4%) centenarians, that is, people aged 100 and over.

Greater longevity is evident in the increasing number of centenarians. On July 1, 2015, it was estimated that there were close to 8,100 centenarians in Canada, of whom 7,100 were women (Chart 3). In comparison, there were about 3,500 centenarians in 2001, and close to 3,000 of them were women. By 2031, there could be 12,600 female centenarians, according to the medium-growth scenario of the most recent population projections, representing 77.8% of the 16,200 centenarians. By 2061, there could be 42,200 female centenarians (of 59,200), representing 71.3% of this population. Female centenarians could maintain their proportional advantage relative to males in the coming decades, owing to the lower mortality rates of females across most of the life course compared with males. However, because gains in life expectancy have been more rapid for men than for women in recent decades, the sex differential among the oldest seniors is narrowing.

Population growth most rapid for the oldest women

From July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015, there was relatively rapid growth of the population in particular age groups corresponding to the baby boomers, but growth occurred at an even faster pace for women and men aged 90 and over (Table 2). In fact, seniors in their late nineties were the fastest-growing age group during the 2014/2015 period, at a pace of 9.8% for women and 14.1% for men.

While growth was similar for females and males of all age groups below age 70, it was slightly more rapid for men than women among 70- to-late-90-year-olds. The second most rapidly growing age group of females were centenarians. In contrast, there was negative growth for males aged 100 and over between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015. Given that the population of male centenarians is much smaller than that of females, it is subject to more fluctuation.

Population growth in 2014/2015 was also relatively rapid for both women and men aged 60 to 74. For example, the number of women and men aged 65 to 69 each grew at a pace of 4.3% in the year prior to July 1, 2015.

Proportions of senior women vary across the country

The share of the female population comprised of seniors aged 65 and over varies across the country from the national share (17.5%), reflecting different historical patterns of fertility and migration (Table 3). On July 1, 2015, the provinces with the highest proportions of senior women were found in eastern Canada, where this group made up about one-fifth of the female populations of New Brunswick (20.4%), Nova Scotia (20.3%), Prince Edward Island (19.7%), Newfoundland and Labrador (19.5%) and Quebec (19.3%). These provinces have experienced among the lowest fertility rates in the country in recent decades and generally higher levels of out-migration than in-migration, especially of young adults. In contrast, the share of senior women in the female population was below the national average in the Prairie provinces, particularly Alberta (12.8%), and in the territories: Yukon (10.6%), Northwest Territories (7.1%) and Nunavut (3.7%), regions all characterized by younger populations. Similarly, the Atlantic provinces had higher proportions of senior men (17% to 18%) than did Canada overall (14.7%) while the lowest proportions of men aged 65 and over were found in Alberta (10.5%), the Northwest Territories (6.6%) and Nunavut (3.7%).

Based on the medium-growth scenario of the most recent population projections, these trends would continue, with higher proportions of seniors, including the oldest old, projected in eastern Canada and lower proportions, in the western provinces and territories. Specifically, more than 3 in 10 females could be seniors in some provinces in 2031 (Chart 4), namely Newfoundland and Labrador (32.6%), New Brunswick (30.7%) and Nova Scotia (30.6%). In comparison, in the Prairie provinces, the shares would be about 2 in 10: Saskatchewan (21.7%), Manitoba (20.9%) and Alberta (18.6%). The proportion of seniors in the female population in 2031 would remain lowest in the territories: Yukon (18.0%), Northwest Territories (14.2%) and Nunavut (7.0%). However, even these younger regions would still experience population aging.

From another perspective, on July 1, 2015, less than half the senior population of Yukon (47.8%) and Nunavut (48.8%) were women, while the proportion exceeded 50% in each of the provinces and the Northwest Territories, and was highest in Ontario (55.2%), Quebec and Manitoba (55.1% each), and Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan (54.8% each).

Despite the lower overall proportions of seniors in their female populations, on July 1, 2015, Saskatchewan (33.5%) and Manitoba (31.4%) had the largest shares of senior women composed of the oldest old, that is, women aged 80 and over. In Nunavut, 10.1% of the senior population were aged 80 and over, as were 17.5% in Yukon.

At the census metropolitan area (CMA) level, the shares of senior women and senior men were much larger in certain regions (Chart 5). On July 1, 2015, Trois-Rivières (23.9%), Peterborough (23.0%), St. Catharines–Niagara (22.7%) and Saguenay and Kelowna (21.8% each) were the CMAs with the highest proportions of senior women in their female populations. Although the share of senior men in the male population was also high in these CMAs, the order differed slightly, with the largest shares found in Kelowna and Peterborough (19.4% each), St. Catharines–Niagara (19.3%) and Trois-Rivières (19.2%). In contrast, on July 1, 2015, the smallest shares of senior women in the female population were found in the CMAs of Alberta and Saskatchewan: Calgary (11.6%), Edmonton (13.2%), Saskatoon (13.7%) and Regina (14.8%). These CMAs also had the four lowest proportions of senior men in their male populations.

Based on the 2011 Census, 14.9% of the female population living in rural areas were seniors, a proportion similar to that for Canada overall. The proportion was slightly higher in small (17.2%) and medium (16.6%) population centres and slightly lower (14.0%) in large urban population centres.

Many women living to the oldest ages

Many trends among senior women, including the increasing proportions of the oldest old, are related to their higher life expectancy. In fact, baby girls and boys born in Canada today can expect to live longer than ever before. Based on the mortality conditions observed between 2009 and 2011, a baby girl born during this period could expect to live 83.6 years, up from 66.3 years if she experienced the mortality conditions observed in 1941 (Table 4). Note 8  For baby boys, life expectancy has increased from 63.0 years in 1941 to 79.3 years in 2009/2011. During the past 10 years, the life expectancy of females increased on average by 2.4 months annually, while that of males achieved higher average gains, at 3.6 months annually, primarily as a result of some women’s health-related behaviours, such as smoking, converging with those of men. Note 9 Men have historically been more affected by heart problems than women and, therefore, also benefited to a greater degree from advancements in cardiac health.Note 10 Consequently, the gap in life expectancy at birth between females and males was 4.3 years in 2009/2011, down from more than 7 years in the 1970s.

Individuals who survive to age 65 can also expect to live longer than in the past. During the 2009/2011 period, at age 65, a woman could expect to live an additional 21.7 years and a man, an additional 18.8 years, a difference of 2.9 years. In 1941, at age 65, women and men could expect to live an additional 14.1 and 12.8 years, respectively, a difference of 1.3 years.

Although the life expectancy of senior women and men is relatively high for Canada overall, there is some variation between the provinces and territories. For females born in 2009/2011, life expectancy at birth was highest in British Columbia, at 84.4 years (Table 5). This was also the only province or territory where the life expectancy for males surpassed 80 years (80.3 years). In the Northwest Territories (80.1 years) and Yukon (79.6 years)—territories with a high Aboriginal population, for whom life expectancy is lowerNote 11—life expectancy for females during the 2009/2011 period was about four years lower than for the country overall, and in Nunavut (73.9 years), this difference was close to 10 years. Nunavut has a predominantly Inuit population, who, in turn, have a shorter life expectancy than other Aboriginal groups.

Internationally, data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) for 2013 or the latest available year,Note 12 indicate that female life expectancy at birth was highest in Japan (86.6 years), followed by Spain (86.1), France (85.6), Italy (85.2) and South Korea (85.1). In comparison, male life expectancy at birth was highest in Switzerland (80.7 years), Iceland (80.5), Italy and Israel (80.3 each), and Japan, Spain and Sweden (80.2 each). In the United States, life expectancy at birth in 2013 was 81.2 years for females and 76.4 years for males. In the least industrialized part of the world, life expectancy at birth today was about 63 years for females (and about 60 years for males), and in some Southern African countries such as Swaziland and Lesotho, on average, newborn girls can expect to live less than 50 years, based on recently observed mortality conditions.Note 13

Diversity within the population of senior womenNote 14

The diverse characteristics within population groups influence both the age structure and the pace of population aging. According to the 2011 NHS, 6.3% of Aboriginal females were aged 65 and over, compared with 15.2% of non-Aboriginal females,Note 15,Note 16 a difference resulting largely from the patterns of higher fertility and lower life expectancy for Aboriginal women. Among single identity Aboriginal females, the share of seniors was largest for Métis (6.7%) and First NationsNote 17 (6.0%) females.Note 18 The Inuit female population was the youngest of the single identity Aboriginal populations, with 4.4% being 65 years and over. Similarly, in 2011, 5.5% of Aboriginal males were aged 65 and over, with the highest proportions for Métis (6.4%), followed by First Nations (5.0%) and Inuit (3.7%) males.

Consistent with their younger age structure, a smaller proportion of Aboriginal females were in the oldest age group (80 years and over). Specifically, 0.9% of Aboriginal females were aged 80 and over, compared with 3.9% of non-Aboriginal females. From another perspective, among women aged 65 and over, 14.7% of Aboriginal women were aged 80 and over, as were 25.5% of non-Aboriginal women. Among senior men, 11.8% of Aboriginal men were aged 80 and over, as were 20.3% of non-Aboriginal men.

The age structure of senior women also reflects their visible minority statusNote 19 and immigrant statusNote 20. A lower proportion of females who reported belonging to a visible minority group (8.1%) were aged 65 years and over in 2011, compared with the rest of the female population (16.4%). More than 1 in 10 Japanese (13.8%) and Chinese (11.0%)  females—groups with a long history of residence in CanadaNote 21—were aged 65 and over, while the proportions were lowest for West Asian (5.8%), Latin American (5.5%) and Arab (4.6%) females (Chart 6). For males, 7.3% of those who reported belonging to a visible minority group were seniors, compared with 14.2% of other males.

Among the senior women who did not belong to a visible minority group, 25.9% were aged 80 and over; for visible minority women, the share was 20.9%. The proportion of senior women who were aged 80 and over was highest for Japanese (31.9%), Chinese (26.3%) and Southeast Asian (25.3%) women. For senior men who did not belong to a visible minority group, the proportion aged 80 and over was 20.5%, higher than for visible minority men (17.3%). Similar to women, the proportion of visible minority senior men who were aged 80 and over was highest for Japanese men (29.2%).

Immigrant females are older than non-immigrant females.Note 22 Although immigrants often arrive in Canada at relatively young ages, a large proportion have been in the country for many years. About one-fifth (20.5%) of immigrant females were aged 65 and over in 2011, while the proportion of non-immigrant females who were seniors was 13.4%. Nearly one-quarter (24.0%) of immigrant females who arrived prior to 2006 were seniors, compared with 3.6% of recent immigrants, that is, those who arrived between 2006 and 2011. Among the male population, 19.6% of immigrants (3.1% of recent immigrants) were aged 65 and over in 2011, while 11.3% of non-immigrants were seniors.

Overall, a higher proportion of immigrant females (5.4%) than non-immigrant females (3.3%) were aged 80 and over.  For immigrant females who arrived before 2006, 6.5% were aged 80 and over, while 0.4% of those who arrived between 2006 and 2011 were this age.

The majority of senior immigrant women were European-born. In 2011, close to 6 in 10 senior immigrant women in Canada were born in Europe (57.3%)—with the largest shares born in the United Kingdom (16.5%) and Italy (9.9%)—followed by Asia (26.2%), Central America, South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda (8.6%) and Africa (3.0%).A relatively small share of senior immigrant women (4.0%) were born in the United States.

In the Toronto CMA, long known to have a high proportion of immigrants, 18.8% of immigrant females were aged 65 and over in 2011, compared with 7.9% of non-immigrant females.  In Vancouver, these proportions were 18.3% and 10.6%, respectively. There was a smaller differential in Montréal, where 18.1% of immigrant females and 14.0% of non-immigrant females were seniors. From another perspective, 29.4% of senior women at the national level were immigrants in 2011, with the proportions being much higher in CMAs such as Toronto (68.5%) and Vancouver (55.9%), and smaller in Montréal (27.6%), than for Canada as a whole.

In 2011, 5.5% of women aged 65 and over did not have sufficient knowledge of an official language (English or French) to conduct a conversation. Among women aged 15 to 64, the proportion was 1.3%. Among senior immigrant women, the share without such knowledge was larger, at 18.3%, and of those who had recently immigrated (between 2006 and 2011), the majority (54.7%) did not have knowledge of an official language. In contrast, among 15- to-64-year-old women, 5.1% of immigrants did not have knowledge of either English or French, and for recent immigrants, the proportion was 8.8%. Patterns were similar for men, although there were smaller shares of men who were unable to conduct a conversation in either English or French.Note 23

As another aspect of diversity, senior women more often identified with a religious denomination than younger women. A higher proportion of senior women (90.3%) and senior men (85.4%) reported a religion in 2011, compared with 15- to-64-year-old women (77.2%) and men (72.3%). About 8 in 10 senior women (84.9%) and senior men (79.7%) reported a Christian religion, with Catholic being most prevalent (reported by 43.9% of senior women and 41.9% of senior men). About 1 in 10 senior women (9.7%) and 14.6% of senior men reported no religion. Among 15- to 64-year-olds, these proportions were 22.8% for women and 27.7% for men.

Most senior women live in private households until the oldest ages

Most women and men aged 65 and over live in private households. In 2011, 89.9% of women aged 65 and over lived in private households, as did 94.7% of senior men, while the remaining shares (10.1% and 5.3%, respectively) lived in collective households or dwellings. The specific living arrangements of senior women and men varied with age (Chart 7).Note 24 The proportions of senior women and senior men living in private households decreased with age, although they still represented the majority of women (64.8%) and men (77.4%) aged 85 and over in 2011.

Overall, more than 4 in 10 (43.8%) senior women were part of a couple in 2011, compared with more than 7 in 10 (72.1%) senior men (Table 6). Most women in their late sixties (62.7%) were part of a couple, as were 77.9% of men in this age group. The share dropped with age, and by age 85 and over, 10.4% of women were part of a couple. The majority of senior men were part of a couple into their oldest years, largely reflecting differences in life expectancy by sex, with women generally living longer, as well as tending to be about two years younger than their spouses or partners. At age 85 and over, 46.2% of men were part of a couple.

There is an increasing tendency, however, to be part of a couple at older ages, particularly among senior women. For example, 43.0% of women aged 75 to 79 were part of a couple in 2011, up from 36.5% 10 years earlier. For men, who already were more likely than women to be part of a couple, there was a more modest increase, from 71.6% in 2001 to 73.4% in 2011. More seniors in couples can be at least partly attributed to Canadians’ higher life expectancy for both sexes. Life expectancy, however, has been increasing more rapidly for men than for women during the last several decades, which can enable relationships to exist well into the senior years. There was a corresponding decrease in the proportion living alone for both senior women and senior men over the past decade.

About 1 in 7 senior women (14.6%) lived with others in 2011, for example, with their adult children or with other relatives or non-relatives,Note 25  the proportion increasing across age groups, from 11.8% at ages 65 to 69 to 17.8% at ages 85 and over. A smaller share (6.6%) of senior men lived with others, a share which increased for the oldest age groups.

Senior women also varied in their living arrangements, according to select characteristics. Compared with the 48.8% of senior women without an Aboriginal identity who lived with a married spouse or common-law partner, a smaller proportion of senior Aboriginal women (41.9%) did so. For senior women with a single Aboriginal identity, the proportion living as part of a couple was highest for Métis (45.4%), followed by Inuit (40.9%) and First Nations (39.5%) women.

A slightly lower proportion of senior visible minority women (45.2%) than other senior women (49.1%) were part of a couple. There were differences, however, by visible minority group, for instance, 63.5% of senior Korean women lived as part of a couple, twice the proportion of senior Black women (31.0%).

While about half of both senior non-immigrant (48.7%) and senior immigrant (48.6%) women lived as part of a couple, a lower proportion of senior women who arrived in Canada between 2006 and 2011 (42.6%) did so.

The majority of senior women and men in couples were married. In 2011, of the 1.2 million women aged 65 and over who were in a union, 94.8% were married spouses and the remaining 5.2% were common-law partners. Despite the smaller share of seniors who live common-law, growth has been more rapid for common-law partners than for married spouses in recent years. In the five years between 2006 and 2011, the number of senior women who were common-law partners grew 67.8% compared with a growth of 16.4% for those who were married spouses. Patterns related to conjugal status were similar for senior men, with the number of common-law partners growing by 49.3% between 2006 and 2011 and the number of married spouses growing by 14.0% during the same period.

While most individuals aged 65 and over in couples in 2011 were in opposite-sex relationships, about 3,100 senior women and 4,900 senior men were in same-sex couples, accounting for 5.2% of all women in same-sex couples and 7.0% of all men in same-sex couples.

According to the 2011 General Social Survey (GSS), more than three-quarters (77%) of all seniors had been in only one union, including both marriages and common-law unions. A smaller proportion of women (16%) than men (23%) had been part of more than one union.Note 26,Note 27 Close to three-quarters (73%) of seniors who had a second union had chosen marriage, while over one-quarter (27%) had chosen a common-law union.Note 28 Among the next generation of seniors, women and men aged 55 to 64, about two-thirds (67%) had been part of one union. Consequently, the family lives of seniors could become more complex in the future, to the extent that multiple unions create both former as well as current kin, with potential corresponding expectations or obligations regarding emotional, financial or other types of support.

About 8% of senior women share a home with grandchildren

A large majority of senior women and men are grandparents. According to the 2011 GSS, about 9 in 10 Canadians aged 65 and over were grandparents, with little difference between women and men. Data from the 2011 NHS provide information on seniors who co-reside (live in the same dwelling) with at least one of their grandchildren. In 2011, nearly 200,000 women aged 65 and over were grandmothers who shared a home with one or more grandchildren—either in the presence or absence of the parental generation—accounting for 8.0% of this age group. Among senior men, 5.7% were grandparents living with their grandchildren.

Among grandmothers sharing a home with grandchildren, 88.2% were there with the middle generation—primarily a couple—while 11.8% were in a skip-generation home. Patterns were similar for senior grandfathers co-residing with grandchildren.

Sharing a home with grandchildren was more common among senior women with certain characteristics. The majority of senior immigrant women (63.5%) who arrived in Canada between 2006 and 2011 (recent immigrants) co-resided with grandchildren in 2011, compared with 4.1% of non–immigrant senior women.Note 29 In addition, senior women who were South Asian (53.4%), Southeast Asian (40.0%), Filipino (38.3%) or Chinese (32.1%), were more likely to share a home with grandchildren than senior women who did not belong to a visible minority group (4.7%). Senior men with these characteristics were also more likely than those without them to share a home with grandchildren, but in lower proportions than senior women. Grandparents may co-reside with grandchildren for many different reasons, which include but are not limited to cultural expectations, health issues and economic benefits. In particular, at the time of the 2011 NHS, parents or grandparents entering Canada through the Family Reunification Program were required to be financially supported by their sponsors during their first decade of residence.Note 30

Not only are Aboriginal females demographically distinct, they also have unique characteristics related to their living arrangements, and in particular, co-residence with grandchildren. Senior Aboriginal women were almost twice as likely to live with grandchildren (15.3%) as senior non-Aboriginal women (7.8%). Co-residing Aboriginal grandmothers were also more likely to be in skip-generation homes (38.8% of co-residing grandmothers), that is, without the presence of a middle generation, than co-residing non-Aboriginal grandmothers (10.9%).Note 31,Note 32

More than 3 in 10 senior women live alone

Although many seniors live as part of a couple, living alone was the second most common living arrangement for both senior women and senior men; patterns differed, however, by both age and sex. In total, 31.5% of senior women lived alone in a private household in 2011, compared with 16.0% of senior men. As shares in couples declined with age for both senior women and men, the share who lived alone generally increased throughout the senior years. For senior women, 24.0% of those aged 65 to 69 lived alone. The proportion increased to 40.2% for women aged 80 to 84 and then declined to 36.6% at ages 85 and over as the proportion living in collective dwellings increased. For men, the proportion who lived alone was 14.4% at ages 65 to 69, increasing to 21.8% among those aged 85 and over. Living alone, particularly at the oldest ages, can have implications for seniors, regarding care from family or friends, safety issues as well as for housing needs and financial circumstances.

A slightly lower proportion of senior Aboriginal women in private households (31.7%) lived alone in 2011, compared with senior non-Aboriginal women (35.3%). For senior single identity Aboriginal women, the proportion living alone was higher for Métis (33.7%) and First Nations (30.4%) women than for Inuit women (16.7%).

Senior visible minority women were about half as likely to live alone (16.8%) as other women (37.5%). The smallest share was for South Asian senior women, of whom 9.4% lived alone, which corresponds to larger shares of this group living with grandchildren or other relatives.

While 27.9% of senior immigrant women in private households lived alone in 2011, 38.4% of senior non-immigrant women did so. Among senior immigrant women who had arrived in the five years prior to 2011, 6.0% lived alone. Among senior men, 13.0% of immigrants and 19.1% of non-immigrants lived alone. A relatively small share of senior immigrant men (3.4%) who arrived in Canada between 2006 and 2011 lived alone.

7 in 10 seniors in collective dwellings are women

Most people aged 65 and over living in collective dwellings are women. Of the 393,100 seniors who lived in a collective or institutional residence in 2011, about 7 in 10 were women. The proportions of both senior women and senior men living in collective dwellings were relatively low until about age 80, but were much higher in the older age groups.  For women aged 65 to 69, 1.5% lived in collective dwellings increasing to 35.2% for those aged 85 and over, compared with 1.7% and 22.6% for men in these age groups.

The main type of collective dwelling in which women and men aged 65 and over lived in 2011 were nursing homesNote 33 (54.9% of senior women and 51.0% of senior men). Among seniors living in collective dwellings, the share of women in nursing homes increased with age, from 36.5% at ages 65 to 69 to 59.9% at ages 85 and over, and the shares for men increased from 32.3% to 56.3% for these age groups.

The second most common type of collective dwelling in which senior women lived were residences for senior citizensNote 34 (33.5% of senior women and 30.3% of senior men). Some assistance is provided in these residences, but residents are primarily independent. According to the 2011 Census, 127,900 seniors, or 2.6% of the population aged 65 and over, lived in seniors’ residences, 72.3% of whom were women and 27.7% of whom were men.Note 35 The proportion of women living in seniors’ residences increased from 24.1% for women in their early sixties to 32.0% for women aged 85 and over, although it peaked at 38.0% for women in their early eighties. For men, the share living in seniors’ residences increased fairly steadily, from 16.1% for men in their early sixties to 34.0% at ages 85 and over.

Most women and men aged 65 and over who lived in residences for seniors lived alone, that is, without a spouse, partner or other family member in their residential unit (88.6% of women and 71.8% of men). Relatively smaller proportions of women and men in these residences lived as part of a couple (10.3% of women and 27.3% of men). While the share of senior women in seniors’ residences who lived alone increased with age, and those who lived as part of a couple decreased with age, the pattern was different for men (Chart 8). The proportion of women who were part of a couple fell from 15.7% for those aged 65 to 74 to 6.7% for those aged 85 and over, while 17.2% of men aged  65 to 74 lived in a couple and it was relatively stable at about 29% for those aged 75 and over.

Proportion of senior women who ever worked for pay in their lifetime continues to rise

Over the last century, women have increasingly become labour force participants. As such, the proportion of senior women who have ever had paid employment in their lifetimeNote 36 has steadily increased. In 1976, 58.4% of women aged 65 and over had worked for pay in their lifetime (Chart 9). By 2005, this proportion had increased to 84.5%, and it has continued to increase, such that in 2015, 89.3% of senior women reported that they had worked for pay during their lifetime. While this proportion was still lower than that for senior men in 2015, the gap (8.6 percentage points) had narrowed considerably since 1976 (40.0 percentage points).

The employment rate among senior women has nearly doubled over the last decade

The employment rate among women aged 65 and over nearly doubled in the decade spanning 2005 to 2015 (Chart 10). In 2005, the employment rate among senior women was 4.8%, compared with 9.1% in 2015. The employment rate also increased for senior men during this time, from 11.7% in 2005, to 17.2% in 2015.

Among senior women, increasing employment rates since the 2000s contrast with the relatively stable employment rates in the three preceding decades. For senior men, the increase marks a reversal in what had generally been a downward trend since the 1970s.

Part-time work is more common among seniors, especially senior women

In 2015, 53.2% of employed women aged 65 and over were working in a part-timeNote 37 position (Chart 11). A smaller proportion of employed senior men (34.3%) reported that they typically worked part time. Senior women and men were more likely to work part time compared with 15- to-64-year-olds, among whom 25.5% of women and 11.0% of men worked part time.

Working part time may be voluntary. For example, an individual may choose to work part time for health reasons, or to meet family responsibilities. On the other hand, working part time may reflect difficulty finding full-time work. Among those who worked part time, seniors were far more likely than younger persons to do so voluntarily. In 2015, the vast majority of senior women (92.2%) and senior men (90.6%) aged 65 and over who worked part time were doing so voluntarily, compared with 73.5% and 69.2% of women and men, aged 15 to 64. Conversely, 7.8% of senior women and 9.4% of senior men who worked part time were doing so involuntarily, compared with 26.5% of women and 30.8% of men aged 15 to 64 (data not shown).

Median income of senior women has increased, but remains lower than that of senior men

The median total income from all sources of women aged 65 and over has followed an upwards trend since the mid-1970s. Over the ten-year period between 2003 and 2013, the median income of senior women increased from $19,300 to $21,900, a difference of $2,600 (Chart 12).Note 38 Senior women had a lower median income compared with senior men, whose income also rose during this time period, from $28,700 in 2003 to $32,300 in 2013. Indeed, since the early 1990s, the median income of senior men has been approximately 1.5 times higher than that of senior women.

Proportion of total income from market sources has risen for senior women and men

An individual’s total income is the sum of two broad components: market income and government transfers. Market income includes employment earnings, such as wages, salaries, and self-employment income, as well as investment and retirement income. Government transfers, on the other hand, include income sources such as Old Age Security, Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Canada or Quebec Pension Plan.

In 2013, the proportion of senior women’s total income that came from market sources was 11.7 percentage points lower than that of senior men (51.0% versus 62.6%). This marks the smallest gap since 1992 (Chart 13).

As the employment rate among the senior population has risen, so has the proportion of seniors’ total income that comes from market sources. The share of senior women’s total income that came from market sources increased from 44.6% in 2003 to 51.0% in 2013 (Table 7). During the same period, the share of senior men’s total income that came from market sources rose from 58.6% to 62.6%. This rising share of income from market sources was primarily due to an increase in the proportion of total income from employment earnings, from 4.1% to 9.0% among senior women, and from 7.9% to 16.3% among senior men.

Among senior women, the proportion of total income from retirement income increased from 26.3% in 2003 to 31.5% in 2013. However, this was not the case among senior men. Their share of total income from retirement income decreased, from 40.7% in 2003 to 36.6% in 2013. This difference is in part due to the fact that, unlike senior men, the proportion of senior women who have had paid employment in their lifetime also increased during this time period. This increased their likelihood of having retirement income.

The share of senior women’s and senior men’s income from government transfers decreased between 2003 and 2013. For senior women, the proportion of total income from Old Age Security, Guaranteed Income Supplement, and Spouse’s Allowance payments, specifically, decreased from 31.8% in 2003 to 26.3% in 2013. The decrease was smaller for senior men (from 18.4% to 16.7%). On the other hand, the share of senior men’s total income from Canada Pension Plan or Quebec Pension Plan payments was smaller in 2013 (18.4%) compared with 2003 (20.3%), with no substantial change among senior women.

Prevalence of low income among senior women and men has risen since the mid-1990s

The prevalence of low incomeNote 39 among senior women, and senior men, followed a steep downward trend from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s (Chart 14). During this time period, the low-income rate among senior women dropped from a high of 36.3% in 1977 to a low of 4.7% in 1995 (a difference of 31.6 percentage points, or 87%). This decline was in large part due to increases in income from pensions and government transfers.Note 40

Since the mid-1990s, the prevalence of low income among seniors has risen somewhat, reflecting the fact that seniors’ median income, a portion of which is indexed to inflation and not wage growth, has not grown at the same pace as that of non-seniors.Note 41 Specifically, from 1995 to 2013, the low-income rate increased by 8.1 percentage points among senior women and 6.4 percentage points among senior men. During the same period, the low income rate remained fairly stable among 18- to-64-year-olds, increasing by 1.1% among women and 1.4% among men (data not shown).

Although the low-income rate among senior women has increased since reaching a low point in the mid-1990s, it is worth noting that it declined by about 3% during the five-year period between 2008 and 2013. In contrast, the prevalence of low income among senior men did not change during this time period.

Prevalence of low income is lower among seniors in economic families

The prevalence of low income, according to the Low income measure after tax (LIM-AT), was lower among seniors living in an economic family than those who were not.Note 42 In 2013, 4.7% of senior women and 5.7% of senior men living with a spouse or other family member were in a low income situation (Chart 15). In contrast, 28.2% of senior women and 24.7% of senior men who were not in an economic family were in this situation.

Notably, senior women not living in an economic family were the most vulnerable to being in a low income situation. It is also among this group of seniors that the prevalence of low income has risen the most over the last two decades. The prevalence of low income among senior women who were not in an economic family increased by 18.9 percentage points between 1995 and 2015, from 9.3% to 28.2%. A similar increase was observed among senior men (18.3 percentage points). The increase was smaller among senior women (3.2 percentage points) and senior men (3.7 percentage points) living in economic families.

About one-third of senior women did volunteer work

Volunteering has been linked to a number of positive outcomes, including an increase in life satisfaction over time and positive changes in self-perceived health, particularly among older volunteers.Note 43 In other research, older volunteers who perceived their volunteer work as a contribution to others and to their community had higher scores on a measure of mental health. Those with lower socioeconomic status committed more time to volunteering, and perceived more personal benefits, such as an enlarged circle of friends and better self-esteem, than same-aged persons with higher socioeconomic status.Note 44

In 2013, about one-third (33%) of senior women and senior men (34%) aged 65 and over reported that they had done volunteer work in the 12 months preceding the General Social Survey on Giving, Volunteering and Participating (data not shown). Participation in volunteer activities decreased with age. For example, volunteering was less common among senior women aged 75 and over (25%) than senior women aged 65 to 74 (40%) (Chart 16).

Senior volunteers spend more time volunteering than younger volunteers

Although seniors were less likely than younger persons to volunteer, those who did so were more likely than their younger counterparts to volunteer for a large number of hours. In 2013, 37% of senior women and 36% of senior men who volunteered reported that they had volunteered 180 hours or more over the last year. Only 20% of women and 24% of men under the age of 65 had done so (data not shown).

Younger senior women (aged 65 to 74) were significantly more likely than older senior women (aged 75 and over) to have volunteered 180 hours or more over the last year (39% versus 31%) (Chart 17).  Younger and older senior men were equally likely, however, to have put in a large number of volunteer hours (both 36%).

Volunteer activities among seniors vary by sex

The two most frequently reported volunteer activities were the same for senior women and senior men. Namely, 43% of senior women and 44% of senior men who volunteered served on a committee or board, while 41% of senior women and 40% of senior men organized activities or events (Table 8). Fundraising was also a relatively common activity, reported by 36% of senior women and 32% of senior men who volunteered.

That said, senior women were more likely than senior men to report volunteer activities involving office work (27% versus 20%), or collecting, serving, or delivering goods (29% versus 23%). On the other hand, senior women were less likely than senior men to report that their volunteer activities included counselling or providing advice (22% versus 33%), maintenance, repair, or building work (7% versus 24%), volunteer driving (13% versus 19%), protecting the environment (11% versus 17%), or coaching, refereeing, or officiating (5%E versus 8%).

Senior women and men are equally likely to participate in organizations, but organization types differ by age group and sex

Like volunteering, participation in organizations and associations more broadly has also been positively associated with self-perceived health. It is also related to higher ratings on life satisfaction, and lower ratings on loneliness.Note 45 In 2013, the majority of senior women (62%) and senior men (61%) aged 65 and over living in private households reported that they had participated in at least one organization or association in the 12 months preceding the General Social Survey on Social Identity.

The top three organization and association types reported by senior women were seniors’ groups (28%), cultural, educational or hobby organizations (25%), and religious groups (23%) (Table 9). However, participation in these types of activities varied significantly between younger (aged 65 to 74) and older (aged 75 and over) seniors. Participation in seniors’ groups was more common among older seniors. About one-third of women aged 75 and over reported participating in a seniors’ group within the last 12 months, compared with just under one-quarter of women aged 65 to 74. Similarly, older senior women were more likely to have participated in a religious organization, compared with younger senior women (26% versus 22%). In contrast, older senior women were less likely than their younger counterparts to have participated in a cultural, educational, or hobby organization (22% versus 28%).

The top three organization and association types reported by senior men were somewhat different than those of senior women. These were sports or recreational organizations (23%), followed by cultural, educational, or hobby organizations (19%) and seniors’ groups (18%).

Social networks become smaller with age

Previous research has shown a positive relationship between social connectedness and self-reported life satisfaction among adults of all ages.Note 46 Among seniors, connections to family, friends, and acquaintances may be particularly useful, if not critical, in meeting their needs for care associated with aging.

Close ties to family members and friends, for example, are likely sources of emotional support and help with daily activities.Note 47 On the other hand, weaker ties, such as to acquaintances, can be valuable sources of information, and have been shown to be a useful bridge to formal community services.Note 48 Notably, support from family, friends and acquaintances has been shown to be related to more positive health outcomes, including a lower incidence of certain chronic conditions and better self-reported health.Note 49,Note 50

Despite the importance of social connections to seniors’ health and care, data from the 2013 General Social Survey show that seniors’ social networks decrease in size with age. While 3% of women aged 65 to 74 reported having no close family membersNote 51, the proportion of women aged 75 and over who reported this was twice as high (6%) (Table 10). Similarly, the proportions of senior women aged 65 to 74 who reported having no close friends (9%) or acquaintances (11%) were lower than for older senior women (13% and 17%).

Although older senior women were more likely than women aged 65 to 74 to report not having any close friends, both groups were similarly likely to report having daily in-person contact with family members living outside their household (9% versus 10%). On the other hand, older senior women were more likely than women aged 65 to 74 to report having daily in-person contact with friends (14% versus 9%).

Notably, there was a small but statistically significant difference in the proportions of men and women aged 65 and over who reported not having any close friends. Senior men were slightly less likely than senior women to report this (6% versus 5%). Similarly, senior men were less likely than senior women to report having daily in-person contact with a family member (8% versus 10%).

Whether they interacted in person, by telephone, or using other means of communication, the vast majority of senior women and men reported being satisfied or very satisfied with the amount of contact they had with family and friends. Over 9 in 10 senior women and men aged 65 and over reported being satisfied or very satisfied with the amount of contact they had with family (92% and 91%) (data not shown).Note 52 Senior women (94%) were slightly more likely than senior men (91%) to report being satisfied or very satisfied with the amount of contact they had with friends.

Seniors living in couples have larger social networks than seniors living alone

Senior women aged 65 and over living in couples were more likely than senior women living alone to report having a large number (5 or more) of close family members (58% compared with 46%) (Table 11). Senior women living in couples were also more likely to report having a large number of acquaintances, compared with their counterparts living alone (78% versus 72%, respectively). That said, the number of friends reported by senior women did not differ based on whether they lived alone or as part of a couple.

Similar patterns with respect to family and acquaintance networks were observed for senior men living in couples and living alone. However, senior men living in couples were more likely than those living alone to report having a large number of close friends (45% versus 36%).

The majority of senior women and men used the Internet in the last year

The Internet offers users the opportunity to communicate with others, to find information, and to engage in consumer and recreational activities. For seniors, engaging in online activities such as these may help maintain a sense of independence. In fact, past research has shown a positive relationship between Internet use and the perception of self-efficacy among adults aged 60 and over.Note 53 These findings are subject to interpretation. It could be that people who perceive themselves as self-efficacious, who have the belief that they are capable of succeeding at a variety of tasks, are more likely to use the Internet. On the other hand, it could be that using the Internet promotes feelings of self-efficacy. While further research on this topic is required, some encouraging results have shown that seniors who were trained to use the Internet scored higher on measures of life satisfaction and perceived self-control and lower on measures of depression and loneliness four months post-training, compared with seniors who were engaged in other activities.Note 54

In the 2013 General Social Survey on Social Identity, the majority of senior women (54%) and senior men (59%) living in private households reported having used the Internet in the past 12 months. Internet use was more commonly reported by younger seniors (aged 65 to 74 years) than older seniors (aged 75 years old and over). For example, while Internet use was reported by nearly 7 in 10 (69%) younger senior women, fewer than 4 in 10 older senior women (35%) did so.

While a similar proportion of women and men aged 65 to 74 reported having used the Internet in the last 12 months (69% compared with 70%), older senior women were less likely than older senior men to have done so (35% versus 41%).

Nearly 4 in 10 senior women who used the Internet had a social media account

In 2013, 37% of senior women who had used the Internet in the last 12 months reported having at least one social media account (Chart 18).Note 55 A smaller proportion (31%) of senior men did so.

Having a social media account was more common among younger seniors than older seniors. For example, 42% of women aged 65 to 74 had at least one social media account, compared with 25% of women aged 75 and over.

The most commonly held social media account among senior women and men was Facebook. This type of account was reported by 36% of senior women and 29% of senior men who had used the Internet within the last 12 months. The second most frequently reported social media account was GooglePlus, held by about 7% of senior women and men who had used the Internet in the same time frame.

Senior women are less likely than senior men to use the Internet for consumer activities

The General Social Survey asked Internet usersNote 56 whether they engaged in several types of consumer activities online within the last month. In general, senior women were less likely than senior men to engage in these types of activities.

For example, while 45% of female Internet users aged 65 and over reported that they had done electronic banking within the last month, this type of Internet use was reported by 54% of their male counterparts (Table 12). Similarly, 68% of senior women searched for information on goods or services, compared with 76% of senior men. A smaller proportion of seniors made an online purchase within the last month, and senior women were less likely than senior men to have done so (18% versus 25%).

Notably, for both men and women, using the Internet for consumer activities was more common among younger seniors (aged 65 to 74) than older seniors (aged 75 and over).

Most senior women and men rate their general and mental health in positive terms

Nearly 8 in 10 women (78.8%) aged 65 and over living in private households rated their health in positive terms in the 2013–2014 Canadian Community Health Survey (Table 13).Note 57 About the same proportion (78.6%) of senior men rated their general health as “good”, “very good”, or “excellent” at that time. In fact, senior women and men tended to rate their general health similarly across several age groups. However, senior women aged 65 to 74 were more likely than same-aged men to rate their health in positive terms (83.0% versus 81.0%).

The proportion of women and men who provided positive ratings of their general health decreased with age. However, a strong majority of women (69.0%) and men (67.9%) aged 85 and over rated their general health positively nonetheless.

A large majority of senior women and men (both 94.3%) living in private households rated their mental health in positive terms in the 2013–2014 Canadian Community Health Survey (Table 14). While positive ratings among seniors decreased overall with age, there was a more noticeable decline in ratings of “excellent” mental health. For example, while 35.6% of women aged 65 to 74 rated their mental health as “excellent”, only 24.4% of women aged 85 and over did so. A similar decline was observed among men.

About half of senior women consume fruits and vegetables at least five times daily

Fruit and vegetable consumption is a good indicator of overall diet quality.Note 58 About half of senior women (48.6%) in the 2013–2014 Canadian Community Health Survey reported that they consumed fruits and vegetables five or more times per day, compared with about one-third (34.2%) of senior men (Chart 19). Fruit and vegetable consumption remained stable beyond the age of 65 among senior women, but increased with age among senior men. While 32.6% of senior men aged 65 to 74 reported eating fruits and vegetables five or more times per day, among senior men aged 75 to 84 and 85 and over, the proportions were 36.7% and 41.1%.

Senior women are less likely to smoke or to have smoked tobacco compared with senior men

Senior women were less likely than senior men to be current smokers or to have smoked in their lifetime. In the 2013–2014 Canadian Community Health Survey, 8.8% of women aged 65 and over reported smoking currently, either regularly or occasionally, compared with 10.8% of same-aged men (Table 15). Senior women were also less likely than their male counterparts to have ever smoked in their lifetime (54.2% versus 77.3%).

Older senior women were less likely than younger senior women to be current smokers, or to have smoked in their lifetime. For example, 3.0%E of women aged 85 and over reported being current smokers, compared with 11.1% of women aged 65 to 74. Similarly, while 39.4% of women aged 85 and over had smoked in their lifetime, this was reported by 58.4% of women aged 65 to 74.

Like women, older senior men were less likely than younger senior men to be smokers. However, older senior men were not statistically less likely than younger senior men to have smoked in their lifetime.

Less than half of senior women are physically active

The Canadian Community Health Survey categorizes respondents into three categories (active, moderately active, or inactive), based on their average daily energy expenditureNote 59 during leisure and transportation activities in the three months preceding the survey.

Less than half (43.5%) of senior women aged 65 and over were categorized as active or moderately active in the 2013–2014 Canadian Community Health Survey (Chart 20). The proportion of senior women who were active or moderately active declined with age. While 48.7% of women aged 65 to 74 were active or moderately active, the proportion dropped to 25.6% for women aged 85 and over.

The proportion of senior men who were active or moderately active also decreased with age. However, senior men were more likely than senior women to be active or moderately active. Among seniors aged 65 and over, 54.1% of men, compared with 43.5% of women, were active or moderately active. This difference was also observed within smaller age groupings. For example, almost one-third of men aged 85 and over were active or moderately active, compared with approximately one-quarter of same-aged women.

More than 8 in 10 senior women and men have at least one chronic health condition

In 2013–2014, 84.4% of senior women living in private households had at least one chronic health condition, that is, a condition that has lasted or is expected to last six months or more and that has been diagnosed by a health professional (Table 16).Note 60 The likelihood of having at least one chronic condition increased with age. While 80.9% of women aged 65 to 74 had at least one chronic health condition, the proportion for women aged 85 and over was 91.0%.

Overall, a smaller proportion (82.2%) of senior men than senior women had at least one chronic health condition. However, this gender difference was only statistically significant among 75 to 84 year olds.

High blood pressure is the most common chronic health condition among senior women

The most common chronic health condition among senior women was high blood pressure, reported by nearly half (48.4%) of women aged 65 and over (Table 16). High blood pressure was also the most common chronic health condition reported by senior men (46.5%).

Arthritis was the second most commonly reported chronic health condition among senior women, affecting 48.2% of those aged 65 and over. Although arthritis was reported by a smaller proportion of senior men (33.0%) than senior women, it was nonetheless the second most common chronic health condition among senior men.

Diabetes and heart disease were also among the most frequently reported chronic health conditions for senior women, reported by 15.5% and 13.7% of women aged 65 and over. These conditions were, however, significantly more common among senior men. Approximately 1 in 5 senior men reported having diabetes (20.6%) or heart disease (20.1%). In contrast, urinary incontinence was more common among senior women (13.6%) than senior men (9.1%), and was the third most commonly reported chronic condition among women aged 85 and over.

Although mood and anxiety disorders were not as frequently reported as other chronic health conditions, it is worth noting that they were more frequently reported among senior women than senior men. While 7.5% of senior women reported having a mood disorder, the proportion of senior men who reported having such a condition was 5.0%. Similarly, anxiety disorders were reported by 6.0% of senior women, compared with 3.5% of senior men.

Senior women report that they are “usually in pain” more commonly than senior men

In the 2013–2014 Canadian Community Health Survey, more than one-third (34.2%) of women aged 65 and over reported usually being in pain (Chart 21). This compares with approximately one-quarter (26.8%) of same-aged men.

The proportion of women who reported usually being in pain increased with age. For example, 31.9% of women aged 65 to 74 indicated being usually in pain, compared with 40.2% of women aged 85 and over. In contrast, the proportion of senior men who reported this remained relatively stable across these age groups.

Disability becomes more common with age

When a long-term physical or mental condition limits a person’s daily activities, it is considered a disability. In 2012, over one-third (35.3%) of women aged 65 and over living in private households reported having at least one disability (Table 17). The prevalence of disability increased with age. For example, 27.6% of women aged 65 to 74 reported having at least one disability, compared with 59.2% of women aged 85 and over.

Overall, men aged 65 and over were less likely than same-aged women to report having a disability (30.9%). However, this difference was only statistically significant among 65- to-74-year-olds. Within this age group, 25.0% of men and 27.6% of women reported having a disability.

Pain is the most commonly reported disability among seniors, and more prevalent among women

Pain was the most commonly reported disability among women aged 65 and over, reported by nearly one-quarter (24.8%) of these women (Table 17). Difficulties with mobility (22.5%) and flexibility (20.7%) were the second and third most commonly reported disabilities among women aged 65 and over. The prevalence of these types of disabilities also increased substantially with age. For example, the prevalence of mobility issues among women aged 85 and over was more than twice (43.7%) that of women aged 65 to 74 (17.4%). Indeed, in the 85 and over age group, mobility issues were the most commonly reported disability among senior women.

Although difficulties with memory were reported by a smaller proportion of senior women compared with other disabilities, the prevalence of this type of disability was almost five times higher among women aged 85 than among women aged 65 to 74 (14.2% versus 3.0%).

While the disabilities most commonly reported by senior men were similar overall to those reported by senior women, they were reported less frequently. Disabling pain was reported by 19.1% of senior men, followed by problems with mobility (18.3%) and flexibility (17.6%). Although mobility and flexibility disabilities were less prevalent overall among senior men than senior women, this was due to the fact that, on average, senior women are older than senior men. Between senior women and men, there was no significant difference in the prevalence of these disabilities beyond 75 years of age. In contrast, senior women in every age group were more likely than senior men to report a pain disability.

On the other hand, senior men (12.1%) were more likely than senior women (9.1%) to report a hearing disability. This gender difference was statistically significant among 65- to-74-year-olds and 75- to-84–year-olds, but not among seniors aged 85 and over.

More than half of senior women aged 85 and over receive help with daily activities

Difficulties related to aging, such as the development of chronic health conditions as well as physical and mental disabilities, may make certain daily tasks challenging. As such, as seniors get older, they are more likely to report receiving help with daily activities, such as household chores, personal care and finances.

Paid help, sometimes referred to as formal help or formal care, is provided by paid professionals. Paid help includes services provided by professionals, such as social workers, house cleaners and doctors among many others. In some cases, the users of these services do not incur a direct cost (e.g., physician services), while in others, the user must pay a portion of the cost (e.g., an insurance co-payment), or the entire cost. On the other hand, unpaid help, sometimes referred to as informal help or informal care, is usually provided by family, friends, or neighbours.Note 61

In 2012, about 20% of women aged 65 and over living in private households received help (either paid or unpaid) with daily activities (Table 18). This proportion grew with age. Compared with the 11% of women aged 65 to 74 who reported receiving such help, 51% of women aged 85 and over did so. The same pattern was observed among senior men, even though senior men were generally less likely than senior women to report having received help.

Unpaid help was more commonly received than paid help by both senior women and senior men. Among senior women aged 65 and over, 18% reported receiving unpaid help. In comparison, 12% of same-aged women received paid help. Nearly half (48%) of women aged 85 and over reported receiving unpaid help and over one-third (34%) reported receiving paid help.

Primary caregiver differs between senior women and senior men

In 2012, senior women were more likely than senior men to report a daughter as their primary caregiver, but less likely to report a spouse as their primary caregiver. For example, 42% of women aged 65 and over, compared with 15% of their male counterparts, reported their daughter as their primary caregiver (Table 19). However, only 19% of senior women, compared with 60% of senior men, reported their spouse as their primary caregiver.

These findings can at least partly be explained by gender differences in life expectancy and living arrangements. Women have longer life expectancy than men and are more likely to live alone in their senior years. This explanation is supported by the primary caregiver patterns reported by both senior women and men from different age groups.

Among senior women aged 65 to 74, the most commonly reported primary caregiver was a spouse, reported by 36% of women in this age category who received care. In the older age categories however, as women become more likely to have lost a spouse or to have a spouse who can no longer provide primary care, the most frequently reported caregiver was a daughter. Daughters were the most commonly reported primary caregivers among both 75- to-84-year-old women (44%) and women aged 85 and over (57%).

In contrast, spouses were the most commonly reported primary caregiver for all age groups of senior men. That said, the proportion of men reporting a spouse as primary caregiver declined across age groups, from 71% at ages 65 to 74 to 36% at ages 85 and over. At the same time, the proportion of senior men reporting other primary caregivers, particularly daughters, increased with age. Among men aged 85 and over who received help, 33%E reported a daughter as their primary caregiver.

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Seniors helping seniors

In 2012, 17% of women and 16% of men aged 65 and over reported providing help with daily living activities to at least one other senior who had a long-term health condition or physical or mental disability, or who experienced general difficulties due to aging. Among seniors who provided such help, 96% of women and 95% of men indicated that their primary care recipient was a senior.

Twenty-eight percent of senior women and men whose primary care recipient was a senior indicated that this person was their spouse or partner. Another 19% of senior women and men reported primarily helping a parent. Senior women were more likely than senior men to report primarily helping a close friend (25% versus 14%), but less likely to report primarily helping a family member other than a spouse, partner or parent, a friend other than a close friend, or an acquaintance (28% versus 39%).

Seniors helped other seniors with a wide variety of activities. Nearly 9 in 10 senior women (87%) whose primary care recipient was aged 65 and over reported providing help with transportation. The next most frequently reported type of help provided by senior women to other seniors was with scheduling (81%), followed by banking, bill paying, or finances (80%). Many senior women also reported helping another senior with household chores (73%), medical treatments (73%), personal care (71%), and household maintenance and outdoor work (67%).

For the most part, there were no statistically significant differences between senior women and senior men in the types of help they provided. However, senior women were significantly more likely than senior men to report helping with scheduling (81% versus 60%).

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Transportation is the most common form of unpaid help received by senior women

The 2012 GSS collected data on the types of unpaid help received by seniors from their primary caregiver. Nearly 8 in 10 women (79%) aged 65 and over reported receiving assistance with transportation from their primary caregiver, making this the most commonly reported type of unpaid help received by senior women (Table 20). Transportation was also the most commonly reported type of help received by senior men, though the proportion (66%) of senior men relative to senior women who received this type of help was smaller. This gender difference was apparent between seniors overall, and within smaller age groupings.

More than half (54%) of senior women who received unpaid help, reported receiving help with household chores, such as meal preparation, cleaning, and laundry. Although a smaller proportion (47%) of senior men overall reported receiving this type of care, the difference was only statistically significant among seniors aged 65 to 74.

Senior men were more likely than senior women to receive help with medical treatments (36% versus 27%). This difference was significant among 65- to-74-year-olds and 75- to-84-year-olds, but not among seniors aged 85 and over.

Help with household chores is the most common form of paid help received by senior women

In 2012, the most common type of paid help received by senior women was help with household chores. Over half (54%) of women aged 65 and over who received paid help reported receiving help with household chores, such as meal preparation and cleaning (Table 21). The second and third most frequently reported types of help received by senior women were help with medical treatments (47%) and help with personal care activities, such as bathing and dressing (46%).

The top three types of paid help received by senior men differed from those reported by senior women. The type of paid help most frequently reported by senior men was help with medical treatments (53%), followed by help with household chores (34%) and house maintenance or outdoor work (28%).

It should be noted, however, that despite the relative difference in the ranking of different types of paid care, the proportions of senior women and men who received paid help with medical treatments, house maintenance and outdoor work did not differ significantly, either among seniors overall or within smaller age groups. On the other hand, senior women were more likely than senior men to report receiving help with household chores in every age group, except for those aged 85 and over. They were also more likely to report receiving help with personal care in all age groups except for those aged 65-to-74.

About 5% of senior women have unmet needs for help with daily activities

In 2012, 5% of women aged 65 and over living in private households reported at least one unmet need for help with daily activities (Table 22). This proportion was higher among seniors who had received help in the last 12 months and lower among those who had not (11% versus 3%). However, this could be due to differences in the populations currently receiving versus not receiving help. For example, it could be that those receiving help are already more limited in their daily activities and therefore in need of additional help.

Overall, senior men were less likely to report having unmet needs for help (3%). However, this gender difference was statistically only significant among seniors aged 75 to 84.

Senior women account for more than 8 in 10 female deaths

Senior deaths account for the majority of deaths occurring in Canada today. Specifically, in 2012, 78.6% of the nearly 246,600 deaths in Canada occurred to people 65 years of age and over. Approximately 101,700 senior women died in 2012, accounting for 83.1% of all female deaths, and 92,100 senior men died, representing 74.1% of all male deaths. The concentration of deaths for women and men from their late seventies to early nineties, may be seen as a “compression of mortality,” meaning that many people live a fairly long life and then die within a similar age range.Note 62

There were fewer female than male deaths at all ages until age 82 owing to their lower mortality rates compared with males across much of the life course. From age 83 onward, however, more deaths occurred to women than men at each age. Given their lower mortality risks earlier in their life, more females than males survive to the oldest ages. In turn, as there are more women at the oldest ages, more deaths occur to women at these ages than to men.Note 63 For example, among centenarians, there were close to 2,200 female deaths and over 400 male deaths in 2012, representing 1.8% of all female deaths and 0.4% of all male deaths.

According to the 2009/2011 life table, 92% of female newborns and 87% of male newborns would survive to age 65 if they experienced the age-specific probabilities of dying observed during this period throughout their lives.Note 64 In comparison, 50 years earlier, the proportions were 81% for females and 69% for males. The likelihood of female newborns becoming centenarians has also improved. Based on the mortality patterns during the 2009/2011 period, the chance of a female surviving to age 100 was 5% and that of a male was 2%, compared with less than 0.2% for each sex in 1961.

The upward trend in the number of deaths over many years is primarily due to a population that is both growing and aging. The number of deaths is likely to continue to increase given that Canada is expected to maintain positive population growth. In addition, an aging baby-boomer population will produce a larger senior population which, in turn, is characterized by higher mortality rates.

Cancer and heart disease account for nearly half of deaths to senior women

Although the two leading causes of death in 2012 were the same for senior women and senior men, there were differences in their prevalence, as well as in the order of other leading causes of death (Table 23).

In 2012, the leading cause of death among both women and men aged 65 and over were malignant neoplasms, or cancer, which was responsible for one-quarter (25.0%) of female deaths and 31.4% of male deaths. The second leading cause of death was heart disease, accounting for 20.7% of deaths to senior women in 2012 and 22.1% of deaths to senior men.

Cerebrovascular disease was the third leading cause of death for senior women (7.0% of deaths) and the fourth leading cause for senior men (5.2% of deaths). Chronic lower respiratory diseases were the fourth most common cause of death among senior women (4.9%). An additional 4.3% of deaths to women aged 65 and over in 2012 were from Alzheimer’s disease (fifth leading cause of death), as were 2.0% of deaths to men (eighth leading cause of death).

Age-specific mortality rates take into account changes in the age structure of the population over time.  From 1981 to 2012, the mortality rate from heart disease for women aged 65 and over decreased from 1,646 to 738 deaths per 100,000. Over the same period, cancer mortality rates increased from 822 to 892 deaths per 100,000 (Chart 22). Senior men experienced a sharper decline in mortality rates from heart disease than women over time, but unlike women, they also experienced a decline in cancer mortality rates.

Cancer mortality rates changed between 1981 and 2012, both by age group and sex (Table 24). In 1981 and 2012, mortality rates from lung cancer were lower for senior women than senior men, in each age group. For women aged 65 to 74, the rates more than doubled between 1981 and 2012 (from 81 to 185 deaths per 100,000), and for women aged 85 and over, they nearly quadrupled (from 69 to 263 deaths per 100,000). Lung cancer mortality rates also increased for men aged 85 and over during this time period, but decreased for men below 85 years of age.

In contrast, from 1981 to 2012 mortality rates from breast cancer decreased for senior women across all age groups.

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