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Population and demography

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For several years, Canada’s population has been both growing at a slower pace and getting older. Another major trend has been the continued move toward large cities. Since 1990, an average of 225,000 immigrants have arrived annually, with the vast majority settling in major urban centres.

Canada has more than 32 million people. In terms of surface area, it is the second largest country in the world. But it is also one of the least densely populated countries on the planet, with only 3.5 inhabitants per square kilometre.

Most of the population is concentrated within a narrow corridor extending along the country’s southern border with the United States. In 2005, Ontario and Quebec alone accounted for 60% of the total population.

Canada’s northernmost areas remain sparsely populated. While the polar region of the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut account for 40% of Canada’s land mass, the region’s inhabitants made up just 0.3% of the population in 2004.

Slowing population growth

Chart: Population density, July 2005 estimateFor the first time in a century, in the 1990s Canada posted lower population growth rates than the United States, due to the latter’s exceptionally high fertility rates for a developed country. Nonetheless, Canada’s population growth rate was much faster than that of many other developed countries.

In general, however, the population growth rate has slowed since the 1960s, mainly because of lower fertility levels. From 1996 to 2001, Canada experienced population growth of 4%, one of the slowest population growth rates recorded between census periods.

Since the 1990s, natural population growth has slowed in all provinces, whereas immigration has remained relatively stable. Immigration is now the main component of population growth, accounting for more than 66% of our population growth from 2001 to 2004.

The urbanization of Canada continues

Chart: Births and deathsIn 2005, 65% of Canadians lived in one of the country’s 27 census metropolitan areas (CMAs). A little more than one in three lived in Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver.

From July 2003 to July 2004, the growth rate of all CMAs was 1.1%, compared with 0.5% for non-metropolitan areas.

With growth rates of 2.4% and 2.5%, Abbotsford and Oshawa had the highest population growth rates among CMAs. However, Toronto continued to show the most significant gain in absolute numbers, followed by Montréal and Vancouver. A major source of Toronto's growth was immigration from other countries, which largely offset the losses from Torontonians migrating to other areas of Ontario.

A rapidly aging population

Chart: Median age, 1941 to 2011Canada’s population is rapidly aging as a result of lower fertility, medical developments, and higher life expectancies. The population of those aged 65 or over has more than doubled in the past 35 years, reaching 4.1 million in 2003, close to 13% of the population.

In 2003, close to one in three Canadians were in the 35-to-54 age group that essentially corresponds to the baby-boom generation. Within a few years, the first of this generation will have reached retirement age. By 2011, those aged 65 and over will represent 15% of the total population.

The fastest growing age group is aged 80 and over. From 1993 to 2003, their numbers increased by 41% to reach 932,000. This figure is expected to increase by another 43% from 2001 to 2011, when it will reach 1.3 million.

As the population ages, it generally includes fewer men, since women tend to live longer. In 2003, the 65-to-74 age group had 90 men for every 100 women. In the 90-and-over age group, this ratio fell to 35 men for every 100 women. In contrast, for the under-18 age group, there were 105 boys for every 100 girls.

Marriage waning in popularity

After peaking in 1972, the proportion of married people fell steadily until the late 1990s, after which it remained relatively stable. In 2003, approximately 60% of Canadians aged 15 or over were married, almost the same as in 2001.

At the same time, the proportion of single people has increased, mainly since 1981. It is especially high in the 18-to-24 age group, since young people are waiting longer before marriage or living together as couples. In 2003, the proportion of single people in this age group reached 85%.

After strong growth in most provinces in the late 1980s, the number of divorces remained relatively stable in the 1990s, but then fell slightly in the early 2000s. In 2002, there were 223.7 divorces per 100,000 people.

Since women have longer life expectancies than men, and since women tend to marry older men, the proportion of widows is higher than that of widowers. In 2003, close to 44% of women aged 65 and over were widows, whereas only 13% of men in that age group were widowers.

On the move

In 2001, 42% of Canadians aged 5 or over had moved in the previous five years, the lowest figure in more than 20 years. This decrease was mainly due to the increase in the older population, which tends to move less than young adults.

Most movers migrated just a short distance. From 1996 to 2001, almost 6.3 million people—or 22.4% of the population aged 5 and over—changed residence but remained in the same municipality, accounting for nearly half of all movers. About 3.6 million moved to another municipality inside the same province, while 905,700 moved from one province or territory to another.

Young adults aged 15 to 29 are much more mobile than the rest of the population, mainly because they move in with others, go to university or join the labour market. From 1996 to 2001, half of them moved, in many cases to a larger census metropolitan area.

Following in the footsteps of prior migrants, Canadians who changed provinces or territories from 1996 to 2001 still tended to move westward. However, internal migrants are choosing Alberta over British Columbia as their favoured destination. This shift may be partly due to Alberta’s economic status as a prosperous and oil-rich province, which has attracted a growing number of young people in this period.

Among the group aged 45 to 64, only 27% changed addresses from 1996 to 2001. The proportion is lower still among seniors aged 65 and older at 18%.