Statistics Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada
Market Research Handbook



Warning View the most recent version.

Archived Content

Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please "contact us" to request a format other than those available.

Section 2: Population growth

Between May 2001 and May 2006, Canada's population grew by 1.6 million (+5.4%) a growth rate which was slightly higher than the rate for the period between the 1996 and 2001 censuses (+4.0%) (table 2.1). This strong population growth puts Canada ahead of the other G8 countries in terms of population growth in the five years leading up to the 2006 Census. While the number of Canadians increased by 5.4%, the growth rate in the rest of the G8 ranged from 5.0% in the US to a 2.4% decline in Russia. 1 

Ontario and Quebec were home to about 62.3% of the total population of Canada, while the Atlantic provinces combined accounted for 7.2% of Canada’s total population (down from 7.6% in 2001) (table 2.1).

Every five years, Statistics Canada conducts a census. The 2006 Census of Canada took place on Tuesday, May 16, 2006. The census provides a statistical portrait of our country and its people. This first part of this section analyses and presents some of the results of the 2006 census relating to total count and the age and sex distribution of the Canadian population.

Comparing the 2001 census counts to those of 2006, population growth was higher in every Canadian province except Prince Edward Island, where it was unchanged, and Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador, where there were population declines. Population growth rates varied in Canada by province and territory. The oil boom in Alberta attracted thousands of migrants to that province, accelerating population growth rate to 106 per 1000 people, the highest increase among the provinces. Ontario (66 per thousand), the only other province that registered a rate higher than the Canadian average, accounted for about half of the population growth in Canada during the 2001-2006 period (750,236 people) (table 2.1 and chart 2.1).

British Columbia (53 per 1000) Quebec (43 per 1000) and Manitoba (26 per 1000) also registered slight increases in their population growth rates. At the other extreme, two provinces experienced a population decline between 2001 and 2006: Newfoundland and Labrador (-15 per 1000) and Saskatchewan (-11 per 1000). For Newfoundland and Labrador, the decrease was smaller than the rate in the 1996  to 2001 (-70 per 1000) period (table 2.1 and chart 2.1).

The Northwest Territories (110 per 1000), Nunavut (102 per 1000) and the Yukon (59 per 1000) recorded impressive growth rates and for the first time the population living in the three territories surpassed the 100,000 mark (table 2.1 and chart 2.1).

Age distribution of Canada’s population

Despite the strong growth rate of Canada’s population during the intercensal period, Canada’s population, like those of other “G8 countries,” is “greying,” as the number of people age 65 years and over increases and the number of children declines.” In 2006, seniors made up 13.7% (4.3 million seniors) of Canada’s population, up from 10.7% twenty years earlier (in 1986) (table 2.3 and chart 2.2). On the other hand, the proportion of the under-15 years population fell to 17.7% (5.6 million), its lowest level ever, down from 21.3% in 1986 (table 2.3 and chart 2.2).

However, the rate of population aging in Canada is slower than in the other G-8 countries, except the United States, where the seniors population is 12.4%.The difference is largely due to the fact that the American fertility rate is higher than the Canadian rate (about 2 children per woman for the U.S., compared with 1.5 for Canada) consequently the proportion of children under 15 years of age is higher in the US than in Canada. 2 

Chart 2.1 Population change in Canada, Provinces and territories, per 1000 people, from 2001 to 2006
Source(s):  Censuses of Population 2001 to 2006.

Declining fertility rates and a steady increase in life expectancy are contributing to the aging of all provincial and territorial populations and this trend is expected to accelerate throughout the country when the first baby-boomers turn 65 years in 2011. There remains significant variation among provinces with respect to the proportion of their population that is under 15 years of age and those 65 years and over. For example, the proportion of people aged 65 and over ranged from 15.4% in Saskatchewan to 2.7% in Nunavut. In 2006, with the exception of Ontario (13.6%) and Alberta (10.7%) all the other provinces recorded higher proportions of their population age 65 years and over than the national average (13.7%) (table 2.3).

Nationwide, Nunavut with 33.9%, had the highest proportion of its population under 15 years of age, while among the provinces, Manitoba (19.6%) Saskatchewan (19.4%) and Alberta (19.2%) recorded the highest proportions of children age less than 15 years. This is partly attributed to the high fertility rate among the aboriginal populations in these provinces. Compared to other provinces, Ontario and Alberta also remain relatively young, respectively reporting 18.2% and 19.2% of their population as under 15 years of age (table 2.3). This is mainly due to the direct and indirect effects of immigration in Ontario and interprovincial migration in Alberta. Many of these in-migrants (interprovincial and international) are in working age categories and are more likely to have children. Newfoundland and Labrador, which has the lowest fertility rate in Canada, recorded the lowest percentage (15.5%) of children less than 15 years (table 2.3). Despite these differences, it is clear that the overall age distribution of Canada’s population is changing and population is gradually “greying”.

Undergraduate enrolment

The emergence of a global and technologically advanced economy where economic growth is dependent on well-trained workers, has reinforced the important role of education in Canada. Canadians’ appreciation of the significance of education is manifested in their increased enrolment in educational programs. Commencing from the latter years of the 1990s to the early 2000s, the number of people enrolled in undergraduate programs has increased steadily. For example, in 2004, 631,923 students were enrolled in undergraduate studies in Canada, up by +2.4% over 2003 figures. However, this growth rate is about a quarter of the 9.6% growth rate experienced from 2002 to 2003 (table 2.7 and chart 2.3). The increase in the number of undergraduate entrants is related to the enrolment by a large number of students in the echo boom generation (children born between 1985 and 1995) and the effects of the double cohort of graduates from Ontario secondary schools.

Chart 2.2 Growth in proportion of people age 65 years and over and those under 15 years of age in Canada, 1956 to 2006
Source(s):  Statistics Canada, Census of Population, 1956 to 2006.

Within the last thirty years, young women have gone from lagging behind young men in going to postsecondary education to overtaking them. In 2004, women continued this trend and outnumbered men in full time undergraduate studies, accounting for about 58% of undergraduate enrolment. While women outnumbered men in most of the disciplines, men continued to dominate certain fields like Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services (85%) Engineering (81%) Mathematics and Statistics (56%) Philosophy and Religious studies (54%) Theology and Religious vocations (58%) Physical Sciences (58%) Transportation (52%) and Business Management and Marketing (51%) (table 2.7).

Considering the selected disciplines, provinces in eastern Canada, enrolled a bigger proportion of undergraduates relative to their proportion of the total Canadian population. For example, although Ontario and Quebec accounted for about 62% of the population of Canada, these provinces accounted for about 66% of the undergraduate enrollment in the selected disciplines. The Atlantic provinces enrolled 10% of the undergraduates, despite the fact that they accounted for only 7% of the total Canadian population. On the other hand, relative to their proportion of the Canadian population (30%) , the four western provinces, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia admitted only 24% of students in the selected undergraduate disciplines (table 2.8).

A Profile of Canadian Families

According to Statistics Canada the term "census family" refers to a married couple (with or without children of either or both spouses), a couple living in common-law (with or without children of either or both partners) or a lone parent of any marital status, with at least one child living in the same dwelling.

Despite much debate about the fragmentation of traditional values and the declining importance of families, Canadians remain deeply loyal to the idea of family. Consequently, in 2006, more than eight in 10 people (84.0%) lived in census families, which has been a fairly consistent proportion over the past 20 years. There were about 8.9 million census families in Canada in 2006, a +6.3% increase from 2001. In terms of growth of census families, Alberta (+11.5%) recorded the highest provincial increase in the number of census families, followed by Ontario (+7.2%) (table 2.9).

Nationwide, married couple families accounted for 68.6% of census families, while common law and lone parent families accounted for 15.5% and 15.9% respectively (table 2.9). The number of common-law-couple families saw the steepest rise since 2001 (+18.9%), reflecting the greater social acceptance of this family structure. Two decades ago, common-law-couple families accounted for only 7.2% of all census families, while married-couple families represented 80.2% of families and lone-parent families, 12.7%.

Chart 2.3 Undergraduate enrolment in Canada, 2001 to 2004 
Source(s):  Postsecondary Student Information System (PSIS) - Centre for Education Statistics.

Among the provinces, Quebec recorded the lowest (54.5%) percentage of married couple families and the highest percentage of common-law families (28.8%). On the other hand, Ontario reported the highest proportion of married couple families (73.9%) and the lowest proportion of common law families. Nationwide, the Territories all combined recorded the lowest percentages of married couple families and the highest percentages of common law and lone parent families (table 2.9).

In a significant turn of events, for the first time in Canadian history, in 2006 there was a higher proportion of census families comprised of couples without children (42.7%) than with children (41.4%) (table 2.5). Twenty years earlier, 52.0% of census families were couples with children while 35.3% were couples without children. This change is partly related to the aging of the population. As the baby boomers age, they experience the “empty nest” syndrome as their already grown up children move out and establish independent households elsewhere. Another factor contributing to fewer couples with children is the fact that the baby-buster generation are a smaller cohort, with lower fertility rates than the previous cohorts.

Given the important relationship between income and the well-being of family members, especially children, the level of family income is a pertinent variable in determining the welfare of the family. In 2005, the year for which the latest data is available, the average family income in Canada was $78,400. Among the provinces, only Ontario ($85,700) and Alberta ($88,100) surpassed this national average. The largest percentage (41.1%) of families in Canada fell in the $75,000 and over income bracket, while the lowest percentage of families (1.4%) earned less than $10,000. However, variation exists among the provinces with respect to the distribution of families in the various income groups. The percentages of families with income of $75,000 and over ranged from a low of 25.4% in Newfoundland to a high of 50.5% in Alberta. On the other spectrum, families in Saskatchewan (2.8%) were the most likely to have family income of less than $10,000 than families in any other province, while families in Prince Edward Island (0.1%) were the least likely to fall in the less than $10,000 income category (table 2.12).