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A portrait of seniors

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The Daily

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

With millions of baby boomers knocking on the door, Canada's seniors are poised to become an even more heterogeneous crowd than they are today, according to a new statistical profile of people 65 years and over.

The report suggests that over the coming years, what it means to be a "senior" could undergo an important re-assessment, especially as the baby boom generation turns 65.

For one thing, seniors are living longer. Near the beginning of the 20th Century, the average 65-year-old Canadian could expect to live another 13.3 years. In 2003, this individual could expect to live another 19.2 years.

Even in the short span between 1991 and 2003, life expectancy at the age of 65 in Canada increased by 1.2 years.

Seniors themselves are changing. Financially, they are much better off than they were a quarter century ago. They are better educated, they are Internet savvy and they are active.

However, the report also points out that the characteristics of younger seniors aged 65 to 74 differ from those of their counterparts aged 85 and over, in many cases dramatically. This is especially true with respect to health, cultural origins, financial situations, living arrangements and so on.

And as individuals, seniors face many challenges. Rising rates of obesity are evident among Canadians of all ages and seniors are no exception. In addition, cancer and heart disease remain the leading causes of death among seniors, while arthritis/rheumatism and high blood pressure remain the most prevalent chronic conditions.

Note to readers

This release is based on the compendium "A portrait of seniors in Canada", released today. The report uses a wide range of data sources to provide a statistical portrait of the well-being and wellness of people aged 65 and over.

While it concentrates on seniors, the report also takes a look ahead, assessing the characteristics of Canadians aged 55 to 64 who will become seniors over the next decade.

The report provides valuable contextual information about the population of seniors. How many seniors are there in Canada? How many will there be in the years ahead? What are their basic demographic characteristics? Where do they live?

A series of chapters assess the physical and mental health of seniors, their financial security and security from crime. In addition, the publication examines their labour force participation, employment training and changes in their educational profile.

Another chapter assesses their living arrangements and family, social networks, social participation and engagement (including volunteering), care and political participation.

Separate chapters examine the well-being of Aboriginal seniors and immigrant seniors, comparing them with the senior population as a whole.

Trends in their population: The baby boom arrives

With "old age" now spanning a period of 20 years or more, the characteristics and experiences of seniors are varied and will become even more so as the baby boom generation starts turning 65 in 2011.

Today, low fertility rates, longer life expectancy and the effects of the baby boom generation are among the factors contributing to the aging of Canada's population. Between 1981 and 2005, the number of seniors in Canada increased from 2.4 million to 4.2 million. Their share of the total population jumped from 9.6% to 13.1%. (New information on the seniors population from the 2006 Census will be released in The Daily on July 17, 2007.)

The aging of the population will accelerate over the next two decades, particularly as baby boomers begin turning 65. Between 2006 and 2026, the number of seniors is projected to increase from 4.3 million to 8.0 million. Their share of the population is expected to increase from 13.2% to 21.2%.

Demographic trends will continue to vary considerably across age groups in the years ahead. Over the next two decades, the number of individuals aged 65 to 74 will almost double, from 2.3 million to about 4.5 million. The share of the total population comprised of these "young seniors" will increase from 7.0% to 11.9%.

The number of Canadians aged 85 plus will nearly double as well, rising from about 500,000 in 2006 to about 900,000 in 2026.

How they are faring at work, in society and in retirement

The financial situation of seniors has improved over the past quarter century. Between 1980 and 2003, the average total income (after tax) received by senior couples increased by 18%, from $36,300 to $42,800.

Increasing income levels have benefited seniors in lower income categories and have contributed to a decline in the incidence of low-income among this group. Even so, among seniors the incidence of low-income remains highest among women who live alone.

From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s there was a steady decline in the share of older men participating in the paid labour force. But between 1996 and 2005 that share increased from 58.4% to 66.7% among men aged 55 to 64 and from 16.5% to 23.0% among men aged 65 to 69. Increases have been evident among older women as well.

According to the Labour Force Survey, just under 320,000 Canadians aged 65 and older participated in the labour force in 2005. The vast majority, about 308,000 were employed, while another 11,000 were actively looking for work. Altogether, this group accounted for 1.8% of the total labour force.

As more and more individuals in the baby boom generation slide into their 60s, the share of the labour force comprised of older workers will increase.

The level of education of seniors may have an impact on their labour force participation. Between 1990 and 2005, the share of seniors with a post-secondary certificate, diploma or degree jumped from 18% to 31%. This trend will continue, as half of the Canadians who will turn age 65 over the next decade have one of these credentials.

Labour force data show that seniors who had a university degree in 2005 were more than four times more likely to participate in the labour force than those with eight years or less of formal schooling.

Many seniors are active outside of the labour force. Among those aged 65 to 74, just over half belong to at least one group or organization and 39% volunteered during 2004. Seniors also provide help on an informal basis such as providing child care or running errands.

Many seniors are engaged in civic life as well. In 2003, about three-quarters of seniors aged 65 to 74 said they had voted in the last federal, provincial and municipal elections.

Health, stress, leisure: How seniors are faring

While aging is associated with a decline in general health and the onset of different forms of activity limitations, a large proportion of seniors are faring well.

For example, 40% of individuals aged 65 to 74 described their health as very good or excellent in health surveys, and another 37% reported it as good. Among Canadians aged 75 or older, 32% described their health as very good or excellent and 36% described it as good.

Approximately 6 in 10 seniors said their life is not at all stressful or not very stressful, compared to about 3 in 10 people aged 25 to 54. Seniors who say their life is stressful most often attribute this to concerns regarding their own health or the health of a family member.

Levels of physical activity vary across age groups and gender. In 2003, 53% of men aged 65 to 74 were physically active or moderately active, almost the same as men aged 25 to 54 (51%). A smaller proportion of women aged 65 to 74 (42%) were physically active or moderately active.

Rising rates of obesity are evident among Canadians of all ages and seniors are no exception. Between 1978/1979 and 2004, the incidence of obesity among seniors aged 75 or older increased from 11% to 24%; among those aged 65 to 74, it increased from 20% to 25%.

Cancer and heart disease remain the leading causes of death among seniors, while arthritis/rheumatism and high blood pressure remain the most prevalent chronic conditions.

In leisure time, computer use has become an increasing part of everyday life for many seniors, as it has for younger Canadians. In 1997, only 3.4% of households headed by a senior had Internet access; by 2004, this had jumped seven-fold to almost 23%.

Between 2000 and 2003, the share of individuals aged 65 to 74 using the Internet more than doubled from 11% to 28%. The same upward trend was evident among seniors age 75 and older, albeit at a lower level.

Immigrant and Aboriginal seniors: Aging evident in both groups

More than one-quarter of all seniors in Canada were born abroad. Most of these immigrant seniors initially arrived in Canada before the 1960s and about half of them were born in Western European countries.

However, this profile will change in the coming years as younger immigrants from other regions age. From 1981 to 2001, the share of immigrant seniors born in Asia increased from 5.6% to 19.1%.

Changes in the source countries of immigrants are increasingly reflected in the share of seniors who are members of a visible minority group, with this share increasing from 2.3% to 7.2% between 1981 and 2001.

Canada's Aboriginal population remains much younger than the non-Aboriginal population.

In 2001, the estimated 39,900 Aboriginal seniors represented 4% of the total Aboriginal population. By 2017, this is expected to increase to 6.5%. This is due in large part to gradually improving life expectancy and to declining birth rates among the Aboriginal population.

Nonetheless, fertility rates remain higher and life expectancies remain lower among the Aboriginal population than the non-Aboriginal population.

The compendium A Portrait of Seniors in Canada (89-519-XWE, free) is now available from the Publications module of our website.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services (613-951-5979;, Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division.