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Study: Projections of the diversity of the Canadian population

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2006 to 2031

All growth scenarios considered, the diversity of Canada's population will continue to increase significantly during the next two decades, especially within certain census metropolitan areas, according to new projections of the country's ethnocultural makeup.

By 2031, between 25% and 28% of the population could be foreign-born. This would surpass the proportion of 22% observed between 1911 and 1931, the highest during the twentieth century. About 55% of this population would be born in Asia.

Between 29% and 32% of the population could belong to a visible minority group, as defined in the Employment Equity Act. This would be nearly double the proportion reported by the 2006 Census. The visible minority population is likely to increase rapidly among the Canadian-born, many of whom are children and grandchildren of immigrants.

The vast majority (96%) of people belonging to a visible minority group would continue to live in one of the 33 census metropolitan areas. By 2031, according to the reference scenario, visible minority groups would comprise 63% of the population of Toronto, 59% in Vancouver and 31% in Montréal. In contrast, they would comprise no more than 5% of the population in St. John's, Greater Sudbury, Trois-Rivières, Québec or Saguenay.

Foreign-born population

Between now and 2031, the foreign-born population of Canada could increase approximately four times faster than the rest of the population. The population of foreign-born could reach between 9.8 million and 12.5 million, depending on various immigration assumptions.

The proportion of foreign-born in the total population would increase from 20% in 2006 to between 25% and 28%.

By 2031, nearly one-half (46%) of Canadians aged 15 and over would be foreign-born, or would have at least one foreign-born parent, up from 39% in 2006.

Canadian-born population

Regardless of future immigration, diversity will grow among the Canadian-born population. By 2031, according to the reference scenario, 47% of second-generation Canadians would belong to a visible minority group, nearly double the proportion of 24% in 2006. Second generation refers to those who are Canadian-born and have at least one parent born outside Canada.

Within the third generation or more, the proportion belonging to visible minorities, although low, would almost triple, from 1% to 3%. The third generation or more are people who are Canadian-born and whose parents and possibly grandparents were Canadian-born.

Note to readers

This release is based on a new study that contains projections up to the year 2031 of the diversity of the Canadian population. Results focus on foreign-born population, visible minority groups, generation status, religious denomination and mother tongue, all key indicators of the diversity of the population. The Employment Equity Act defines visible minorities as "persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour."

The study was prepared by Statistics Canada for Canadian Heritage, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada. These policy departments were responsible for the policy-related assumptions of the projections.

The study contains five population growth scenarios, including a reference scenario as well as low- and high-growth scenarios. The reference scenario shows what could be the diversity of the Canadian population if current demographic trends were to continue. The low-growth scenario assumes low fertility, life expectancy and immigration, while the high-growth scenario assumes high levels of each.

Fertility, for example, would vary from 1.5 children per women in the low-growth scenario to 1.9 in the high-growth scenario, with the reference scenario standing at 1.7.

The projections contained in the study were produced with a microsimulation model developed at Statistics Canada called Demosim. This model not only allows projections of a large number of characteristics of the population, but it also takes into account differentials in demographic behaviours between sub-groups of the population.

Visible minorities

According to the scenarios developed for the projections, the visible minority population would continue to be bolstered by sustained immigration, slightly higher fertility and a younger age structure. In 2006, the median age of this population was 32.5 years, compared with 40.4 for the rest of the population.

Under the low- and high-growth scenarios of these projections, Canada could have between 11.4 million and 14.4 million persons belonging to a visible minority group by 2031, more than double the 5.3 million reported in 2006. The rest of the population, in contrast, is projected to increase by less than 12%.

The South Asian population, which would still be the largest visible minority group, could more than double from roughly 1.3 million in 2006 to between 3.2 million and 4.1 million. The Chinese population is projected to grow from 1.3 million to between 2.4 million and 3.0 million.

South Asians would represent 28% of the population belonging to visible minority groups, up from 25%, while the share of Chinese would decline from 24% to 21%. This is because Chinese women have one of the lowest fertility rates in Canada, unlike South Asian women. Also, people born in China have a higher propensity to emigrate than South Asians.

Canada's Black and Filipino populations, which were the third and fourth largest visible minority groups in 2006, could also double in size. The Arab and West Asian groups could more than triple, the fastest growth among all groups.

Religious denomination

By 2031, the number of people having a non-Christian religion in Canada would almost double from 8% of the population in 2006 to 14% in 2031.

The proportion with a Christian religion would decline from 75% to about 65%. The share with no religion would rise from about 17% to 21%.

Within the population having a non-Christian religion, about one-half would be a Muslim by 2031, up from 35% in 2006.

Metropolitan areas

By 2031, according to the reference scenario, more than 71% of all visible minority people would live in Canada's three largest census metropolitan areas: Toronto, Vancouver and Montréal.

In Toronto, 24% of the population, or 2.1 million, would be South Asians, which would continue to be its largest visible minority group, up from 13% in 2006.

In Vancouver, Chinese would be the largest visible minority group, with a population of around 809,000. They would account for about 23% of Vancouver's population, up from 18% in 2006.

In Montréal, visible minority groups would represent 31% of the population, nearly double the 16% in 2006. By 2031, its Arab population would almost reach the Black population.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 5126.

The study Projections of the Diversity of the Canadian Population, 2006 to 2031 (91-551-X, free), is now available from the Key resource module of our website under Publications.

Also available are diversity profiles for the three largest census metropolitan areas: Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver.

For more information, contact Media Relations (613-951-4636), Communications and Library Services Division. To obtain additional data, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services (toll-free 1-866-767-5611; 613-951-2320; fax: 613-951-2307;, Demography Division.

Table 1

Proportion of foreign-born and visible minority populations by census metropolitan area, 2006 and 2031 (reference scenario)
  Foreign-born Visible minority
  2006 2031 2006 2031
  % of population
Canada 20 26 16 31
Abbotsford–Mission 24 29 23 39
Barrie 13 13 6 11
Brantford 12 13 5 10
Calgary 24 30 22 38
Edmonton 19 22 17 29
Greater Sudbury 7 5 2 5
Guelph 20 25 13 25
Halifax 7 11 7 12
Hamilton 24 27 12 25
Kelowna 15 14 5 10
Kingston 12 14 6 11
Kitchener 23 28 14 28
London 19 23 11 22
Moncton 3 5 2 5
Montréal 21 30 16 31
Oshawa 16 19 10 21
Ottawa–Gatineau (Ottawa part) 22 29 19 36
Ottawa–Gatineau (Gatineau part) 8 15 6 14
Peterborough 9 11 3 8
Québec 4 7 2 5
Regina 8 10 7 12
Saguenay 1 2 1 2
Saint John 4 6 3 8
Saskatoon 8 10 6 13
Sherbrooke 6 11 4 10
St. Catharines–Niagara 18 19 7 14
St. John's 3 4 2 5
Thunder Bay 10 8 3 7
Toronto 46 50 43 63
Trois-Rivières 2 5 2 4
Vancouver 40 44 42 59
Victoria 19 20 10 17
Windsor 23 28 16 33
Winnipeg 18 24 15 27