Section 2: Population by age and sex

This section presents an analysis of the population estimates by age and sex for Canada, the provinces and territories on July 1, 2014.

National portrait

Baby-boomers accelerate Canada’s population aging

In recent decades, one of the major changes associated with Canada’s age-sex structure is population aging. The age pyramid below (Figure 2.1) illustrates the aging of Canada’s population by comparing the population’s age-sex structures on July 1 of 1984 and 2014. In particular, the pyramid shows the impact of the baby-boomer cohort, born between 1946 and 1965, on Canada’s age structure. The movement of the baby boomers through the age structure is especially apparent in this age-sex pyramid, as the base of the pyramid is narrower and the top broader in 2014 than they were in 1984. Thirty years ago, baby boomers were young adults between 19 and 38 years of age; now they are between 49 and 68. The pace of population aging will remain rapid until 2031, when the last baby boomers turn 65.

The children of the baby boomers, born between 1972 and 1992 and now between 22 and 42 years of age, are the largest cohort, making up 28.6% of Canada’s population. The other cohorts are, in descending order of size, baby boomers (26.9%), members of Generation Z (born since 1993; 24.8%), baby busters (born between 1966 and 1971; 8.2%), parents of baby boomers (born between 1919 and 1940; 7.4%), members of the Second World War generation (born between 1941 and 1945; 3.9%) and people born before 1919 (0.1%).

Figure 2.1: Age pyramid of population estimates as of July 1, 1984 and 2014, Canada

One Canadian in two is at least 40

In 2014, one Canadian in two was at least 40.4 years of age. The median age of Canada’s population has risen by 9.8 years in the past 30 years (see Chart 2.1). The median age was higher for women (41.2 years) than for men (39.5 years). This difference is due to a persistent, though shrinking, gap in life expectancy in favour of females. According to the latest data, life expectancy was 83.6 years for females and 79.3 years for males 1 

The proportion of the 65-and-over population is approaching that of the under-15 population

According to preliminary estimates, 15.7% of the Canadian population, nearly one person in six, was 65 or older on July 1, 2014. This proportion has been rising steadily since the mid-1960s because fertility rates have been below the replacement level and life expectancy has been increasing. By comparison, the proportion of Canadians aged 65 and over was 10.0% 30 years earlier, on July 1, 1984. Over the last 30 years, this age group has more than doubled in size, from 2,563,300 to 5,585,300.

Moreover, during the last annual period, the growth rate of the 65-and-over group was 3.7%, more than triple the growth rate of the population as a whole. The annual growth rate of this age group has been accelerating since the beginning of the decade, specifically since 2011, when the first baby boomers began turning 65. According to the most recent population projections for Canada, 2  seniors could make up between 23.8% and 27.8% of the population by 2063, about 50 years from now.

On July 1, 2014, there were 5,708,700 people under the age of 15 in Canada, 16.1% of the population. While the number of people under 15 has remained relatively stable over the last 30 years, their proportion of the total population has fallen 5.5 percentage points since 1984 (21.6%). This decline in their demographic weight is mainly attributable to the more rapid growth rate 65-and-over age group. As more and more members of the baby-boomer cohort reach 65, the number of people aged 65 and over will continue getting closer to the number of people aged 15 and under, probably surpassing it by 2015 or 2016.2

The 15-to-64 group, with a growth rate of 0.6% during the last annual period, totalled 24,246,500 on July 1, 2014, 68.2% of Canada’s population.

The proportion of the 55-to-64 age group surpasses that of the 15-to-24 age group for the first time

For the first time since 1971, the first year covered by the current system of demographic accounts, population estimates show that there are more persons aged 55 to 64, the age when people typically leave the labour force, than those aged 15 to 24, the age when people typically enter the labour force. On July 1, 2014, there were 4,610,800 people between 15 and 24 in Canada, compared with 4,725,400 people between 55 and 64. Thirty years ago, for every person aged 55 to 64, there were 2 people aged 15 to 24; this ratio has now fallen by half, to just below 1.

The number of centenarians continues to grow rapidly

Because of rising life expectancy, increasing numbers of Canadians are reaching the age of 100. On July 1, 2014, according to preliminary estimates, there were more than 7,600 centenarians in Canada, around 21 centenarians per 100,000 persons. In 2001, 3  the ratio was only half as large, at 11 centenarians per 100,000 persons. By comparison, in 2013, there were about 43 centenarians per 100,000 persons in Japan. 4  More women than men reach the age of 100 because of lower mortality levels at all ages. In 2014, most centenarians were women (87.6%).

The 85-and-over population has the highest growth rate in the last 30 years

Between 1984 and 2014, all five-year age groups over 40 had higher growth rates than the national average. This reflects the accelerating population aging in Canada, which will continue in the years to come. The highest growth rates are in the 80-and-over population. The age group that had the largest increase between 1984 and 2014 (+239.8%) was the 85-and-over group (Chart 2.3), expanding from 215,100 in 1984 to 730,900 in 2014. The second-highest rate of increase was in the 80-to-84 group (+152.6%). Four other age groups doubled or more in size over the last 30 years: 50 to 54 (+120.4%), 55 to 59 (+111.9%), 65 to 69 (+111.4%) and 75 to 79 (+101.3%). With the exception of the 75-to-79 group, the sharp increase in the size of these age groups is due to the influx of baby boomers. Only one age group decreased in size between 1984 and 2014: the 20-to-24 group, with a growth rate of -1.7%.

Population aging is less advanced in Canada than in most G7 countries

Population aging is a common phenomenon around the world; the proportion of the 65-and-over population has increased in all G7 countries over the last 30 years. Among G7 members, Canada has one of the lowest proportions of people aged 65 and over. In contrast, Japan has one of the oldest populations in the world and the highest proportion of people aged 65 and over in the G7, just over one person in four (26%).

The proportion of the under-15 population is higher in Canada (16.1%) than in Japan (13%), Germany (13%) and Italy (14%). The fact that Canada has proportionally more people aged 0 to 14 than these three countries is due in part to higher fertility in Canada. However, the proportion of children is lower in Canada than in the United States (19%), the United Kingdom (18%) and France (18%), where fertility is closer to the replacement level.

In addition, Canada is the G7 country that has the largest proportion of working-age people, with 68.2% of its population in the 15-to-64 age group. Japan is the G7 country with the lowest proportion, 61%. The fact that the baby boom was larger in Canada than in most other G7 countries accounts, in part, for Canada’s higher proportion of people aged 15 to 64. As more and more Canadian baby boomers reach the age of 65, the proportion of the working-age population in Canada will move closer to the proportions observed in the other G7 countries.

There are slightly more women than men in Canada

In addition to aging, the population’s sex structure is also changing (Chart 2.4). For the Canadian population as a whole, the sex ratio was estimated at 98 males per 100 females on July 1, 2014, compared with 99 males per 100 females in 1984. Males outnumbered females in the 0-to-14 and 15-to-39 age ranges, because of the sex ratio at birth, which averages 105 males per 100 females. However, when people reach their mid-fifties, the number of males starts to fall slightly below the number of females, because of a higher male mortality rate. This gap widens at more advanced ages, so that in the 65-to-79 group, there were an estimated 91 males per 100 females on July 1, 2014. This is nevertheless an increase from 1984, when there were only 79 males for every 100 females. In the 80-and-over population, there were an estimated 62 males per 100 females on July 1, 2014, compared with only 53 per 100 on July 1, 1984. The estimate for centenarians in 2014 was just 14 males per 100 females.

Portrait of the provinces and territories

Uneven population aging across Canada’s provinces and territories

The age structure of the population varies appreciably from one province or territory to another. In most cases, these differences are due to dissimilarities in current and past fertility and immigration levels, and to variable interprovincial migration levels. On July 1, 2014, Canada’s youngest populations were in the territories and the Prairies, and the oldest populations were in the Atlantic provinces (Table 2.2 and Figure 2.2).

Figure 2.2: Age pyramid of population estimates as of July 1, 2014; comparison of four major regions of Canada

The age pyramid opposite (Figure 2.2) shows the population structure of the territories, the Prairie provinces, the Atlantic provinces and Canada’s three most populous provinces. These four regions are compared since, within each region, there are a number of common characteristics with regard to age-sex structure.

First, the much wider base of the territories’ pyramid reflects the preponderance of young people in the population of northern Canada. Conversely, the narrower peak of the pyramid indicates that the proportion of seniors is smaller than in the rest of Canada. This situation is attributable to the higher fertility and shorter life expectancy in northern Canada.

The age structure of the three Prairie provinces is distinctly different from those of the other seven provinces of Canada. Higher fertility accounts for the higher proportion of young people in the Prairies, reflected in the wider base of the age pyramid. In addition, the 20-to-39 age group is prominent in the Prairie provinces’ population, as it makes up a substantially larger proportion of the population than in other provinces. As a result, there are more people in the younger segment of the labour force (ages 15 to 39) than in the older segment (ages 40 to 64) in the Prairies. The opposite is true in Canada’s other seven provinces. In addition, the top of the Prairies’ age pyramid narrows more sharply than that of the other regions. The lower proportion of seniors in the Prairie region’s population is due in part to higher fertility levels, international immigration and interprovincial migration gains.

In the Atlantic provinces, population aging is more advanced than in any other part of Canada, as shown by the broad peak of its age pyramid. The larger demographic weight of the baby boomers in the Atlantic provinces is also evident in Figure 2.2, in the form of a bulge between the ages of 49 and 68. This cohort is also easy to identify in the age pyramids of Canada’s other regions, but it is much more conspicuous in the Atlantic provinces’ pyramid. The reason for this is that the younger cohorts are proportionally smaller than in the rest of Canada, as a result of lower fertility and many years of interprovincial migration losses.

Though very different in various respects, the three most populous provinces have a number of demographic similarities. Each one has one of the three largest census metropolitan areas in Canada (Toronto in Ontario, Montréal in Quebec, and Vancouver in British Columbia). The majority of immigrants to Canada settle in these provinces, and their levels of population aging are comparable. The age structure of Canada’s three most populous provinces is mid-way between that of the Prairie provinces and that of the Atlantic provinces. Baby boomers make up a smaller proportion of the population in these provinces than in the Atlantic provinces, but a larger proportion than in the Prairies. In the three most populous provinces, the demographic weight of the younger cohorts is higher than in the Atlantic provinces, but lower than in the Prairie provinces.

The population is oldest in the Atlantic provinces and youngest in the Prairies and the territories

Nunavut had the youngest population in Canada on July 1, 2014, with a median age of 25.5 and a proportion under age 15 of 31.1%. The Northwest Territories also had a high proportion of children, at 21.4%. The province with the largest proportion of people under 15 was Saskatchewan (18.9%), and the province with the lowest median age (36.0) was Alberta. Manitoba’s population was also appreciably younger than the national average. People under 15 made up 18.7% of its population, the second-highest proportion for a Canadian province, and the median age was 37.7, 2.7 lower than the national median age (40.4).

The proportion of the 65-and-over population was higher in each of the four Atlantic provinces than in any other province or territory of Canada. The highest proportion in the country was 18.3%, in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Newfoundland and Labrador had the highest median age in Canada, at 44.6, 4.2 higher than the national average. New Brunswick was close behind, with a median age of 44.3. Prince Edward Island’s population was older than the national average, but the province had a lower median age (43.3) and a higher proportion under age 15 (15.9%) than any other Atlantic province.

The populations of Quebec and British Columbia were slightly older than the national population. Their proportion of people 65 and over was slightly more than one percentage point above the national average (17.1% and 17.0% respectively, compared with 15.7% for Canada), and their median age was a year and a half higher than the median age for the entire country (41.8 and 41.9 respectively, compared with 40.4 for Canada). The age structure of Ontario’s population was very similar to that of the Canadian population. The proportions of the province’s population that were between 0 and 14 (16.0%) and 65 or over (15.6%) differed from the Canadian averages by just 0.1 percentage points.

The working-age populations (ages 15 to 64) of Yukon and the Northwest Territories were proportionally the largest in Canada, at 72.9% and 72.0% respectively, compared with the national average of 68.2%. Alberta was the province with the largest proportion of people aged 15 to 64 (70.4%), in part because of the influx of working-age people from other parts of Canada and other countries.

The ratio of the number of persons aged 55 to 64, the age when people typically leave the labour force, to the number of those aged 15 to 24, the age when people typically enter the labour, varies considerably across Canada. On July 1, 2014, it was only 0.71 in Newfoundland and Labrador, the lowest in the country. In the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, it was 1.41 and 2.70 respectively. The number of people aged 15 to 24 was still larger than the number of people aged 55 to 64 in four provinces: Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario (with ratios of 1.14, 1.12, 1.09 and 1.04 respectively). The ratio was 0.86 in Quebec and 0.93 in British Columbia.

Some provinces are aging much faster than others

The pace of population aging varies substantially across Canada. To illustrate the differential speed of this demographic process, Chart 2.6 shows the length of time that it took or is projected to take for the proportion of people aged 65 and over to increase from 7.5% to 15.0% (that is, for the proportion of seniors to double).

The 15% seniors threshold was reached by all Canadian provinces except Alberta and Manitoba 5  over the last eight years. It took more than 80 years for the proportion of seniors to increase from 7.5% to 15.0% in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, whereas the transition was made in just 34 years in Quebec and only 29 years in Newfoundland and Labrador. In comparison, 75 years were required for the proportion of seniors to double in Ontario, 73 years in British Columbia and 69 years in Manitoba. This shows that the size of the baby boom and baby bust was not uniform across Canada; in fact these events were larger in both Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.

At the national level, 65 years elapsed between the time the proportion of people aged 65 and over in the population reached 7.5% (in 1948) and the time it reached 15.0% (in 2013). Although Alberta would be the last province in which the proportion of seniors makes it to 15.0% (between 2023 and 2026), the doubling period could be the third-shortest in the country. In the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, the proportion of seniors had not yet reached 7.5% on July 1, 2014.

Comparison of the provinces and territories with the states of the United States: Substantial differences

A comparison of the demographic indicators for Canada’s provinces and territories with those of the 50 American states 6  can provide a better understanding of Canada’s diverse population dynamics. Certain provinces and territories are either the fastest growing or the slowest growing regions in North America (excluding Mexico).

In terms of the proportion of persons aged 65 and older, the four Atlantic provinces were among the oldest regions in North America: only Florida (18.7%) had a higher proportion of seniors. In addition, the proportion of persons aged 65 and older was also high in Quebec (17.1%) and British Columbia (17.0%), these provinces being surpassed by Florida and two other states: Maine (17.7%) and West Virginia (17.3%).

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Nunavut (3.7%) and the Northwest Territories (6.6%) were the regions with the lowest proportions of seniors aged 65 and over in North America. Among the provinces, the youngest population was in Alberta (11.4%), its proportion of seniors being lower than in all states except three: Alaska (9.3%), Utah (9.8%) and Texas (11.3%).

Similar observations can be made regarding the proportion of people under the age of 15, although the values are generally higher south of the Canadian border because of the higher fertility of the U.S. population. Five Canadian provinces have fewer people aged 0 to 14 than any of the 50 U.S. states: Nova Scotia (14.1%), Newfoundland and Labrador (14.4%), New Brunswick (14.6%), British Columbia (14.6%) and Quebec (15.4%), where the proportion of children is lower than in Vermont, the state with the lowest proportion (15.9%). In contrast, Nunavut has a higher proportion of children than any other region of Canada and the United States, at 31.1%, nearly five percentage points more than Utah (26.2%), which ranks second.

Lastly, Canadian provinces and territories differ from the U.S. states by virtue of the large proportion of the working-age population (ages 15 to 64). In Yukon (72.9%), the Northwest Territories (72.0%) and Alberta (70.4%), this proportion is higher than in any of the 50 states. Moreover, more than two-thirds of the population is between the ages of 15 and 64 in 10 of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories, compared with just 15 of the 50 U.S. states.

Sex ratio

The populations of the provinces and territories differ not only in their age structure but also in their sex structure (Chart 2.10). On July 1, 2014, the Atlantic provinces and Ontario had the lowest sex ratio, and the territories had the highest ratios. In addition, Saskatchewan and Alberta were the only two provinces with a slightly larger number of males than females. This situation is mostly due to the higher sex ratio in their working-age population, which is partly attributable to the fact that interprovincial migration brings more men to these two provinces.

In the 0-to-14 age group, the sex ratio was greater than 1 in every Canadian province and territory, because the number of male births normally exceeds the number of female births. In the 65-and-over population, the sex ratios for the provinces ranged between 80 and 90 men per 100 women. In the territories, on the other hand, there were more elderly men than elderly women, partly because of the shorter life expectancy in this part of Canada.

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