Section 2: Population by age and sex

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This section analyzes estimates of the population by age and sex for Canada, the provinces and territories on July 1, 2012.

National portrait

Population aging

In recent decades, one of the main changes related to Canada's age and sex structure is population aging. This phenomenon can basically be explained by fertility below the replacement level in recent years, along with increasing life expectancy.

The following age-sex pyramid (Figure 2.1) illustrates the aging of Canada's population by comparing the age and sex structure of the Canadian population on July 1, 1982 and 2012. In particular, the pyramid shows the impact of the large cohort of baby boomers, 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. Thirty years ago, the baby boomers were young adults in the 17 to 36 age range, whereas now they are in the 47 to 66 age range.

Figure 2.1: Age pyramid of population estimates as of July 1, 1982 and 2012, Canada

Population aging is a complex phenomenon that can be measured using several statistical indicators such as the median age and the proportion of the population aged 65 and over. The median age is the age that divides a population into two groups of equal size, one consisting of individuals above the median age and the other of individuals below it.

On July 1, 2012, the number of children (aged 0 to 14) was estimated at 5,663,200 or 16.2% of the population, down 5.8 percentage points from 1982 (22.0%). In turn, the number of persons aged 65 and over was estimated at 5,186,800, representing 14.9% of the Canadian population. In the past 30 years, seniors' demographic weight has increased by 5.2 percentage points. Between 1982 and 2012, the number of seniors has more than doubled (112.4%), while the number of children has increased by only 2.5%. Because it has thus grown faster, the number of persons aged 65 and over has been steadily approaching the number of children; the gap was only 476,000 in 2012 compared with 3.1 million in 1982. The aging of the population in Canada is bound to accelerate in the coming decades, as all members of the vast baby-boom cohort reach age 65. At that point, the proportion of persons aged 65 and over will exceed the proportion of children under 15 years of age. The most recent projections show that seniors could account for more than one-quarter of the population by 2036. 1 

In 2012, one Canadian in two is at least 40 years of age. The median age of Canada's population has grown by 10.2 years in the past 30 years (see Chart 2.1). The median age is higher for women (41.0 years) than for men (39.0 years). This difference is explained by a persistent, although diminishing, gap in life expectancy in favour of females. The most recent data show that females' life expectancy was 83 years, compared with 79 years for males. 2 

Population aging does not affect all parts of the country in the same way. On July 1, 2012, the youngest populations in Canada generally resided in the territories, while the oldest lived in the Atlantic provinces. Newfoundland and Labrador was the place in Canada with the oldest population (44.2 years). Among the provinces, Alberta had the youngest population (36.1 years). Owing to higher fertility and lower life expectancy, Nunavut had the youngest population in Canada, with a median age of 24.7 years in 2012.

Five-year age group

Between 1982 and 2012, the age group showing the largest increase (+250.1%) was the 85 and over group (Chart 2.2), going from 202,300 in 1982 to 708,100 in 2012. Following them was the population between 80 and 84 years of age (+168.6%). The growing size of the oldest segment of the Canadian population is mainly due to the marked decrease in mortality at advanced ages. Four other age groups saw their numbers more than double in 30 years: the 50 to 54 (+114.5%), the 45 to 49 (+112.5%), the 75 to 79 (+104.5%) and the 55 to 59 (+103.7%). Except for the 75 to 79, the strong increase in the size of these age groups is due to the presence of baby boomers, who comprise the largest cohorts in the history of Canada. From 1982 to 2012, three age groups saw their numbers decrease: the 15 to 19 (-5.7%), the 20 to 24 (-2.1%) and the 10 to 14 (-1.8%). These cohorts were born between 1988 and 2002, a period in which Canadian fertility was at its lowest levels, reaching a low of 1.49 children per woman at the turn of the 21st century. 3 

Sex ratio

Aside from aging, the sex structure of the population is also changing (Chart 2.3). On July 1, 2012, in the Canadian population as a whole, there were an estimated 99 males per 100 females, the same ratio as in 1982. Males outnumbered females in the 0 to 14 and 15 to 39 age ranges, owing to the sex ratio at birth, which averages 105 males per 100 females. However, when people reach their fifties, the numbers of males start to fall slightly below the numbers of females, because of a higher male mortality rate. This gap widens at more advanced ages, with the result that among persons aged 65 to 79, there were estimated to be 90 males per 100 females on July 1, 2012. This is nevertheless an increase compared with 1982, when for 100 females there were only 80 males. In the population aged 80 and over, there were an estimated 61 males per 100 females on July 1, 2012, compared with only 54 per 100 on July 1, 1982. In recent years, life expectancy gains have been more rapid for males than for females, and this has led to a gradual narrowing in the gap represented by the sex ratio.

Children (under 15 years of age)

The proportion of children within the population continues to decline. On July 1, 2012, there were an estimated 5,663,200 children aged 0 to 14 in Canada, representing 16.2% of the total population. They accounted for 22.0% of the population in 1982. The most recent population projections show that the proportion of children aged 0 to 14 years could fall below 16.0% during the 2030s. They also show that between 2015 and 2021, the number of children will be surpassed by the number of seniors. The proportion of children varies from one part of Canada to another, peaking at the national level in Nunavut (31.7%) and, among the provinces, in Saskatchewan (19.1%) and Manitoba (18.8%).

The recent rise in fertility has slightly increased the weight of children under five years of age in the population. As a result, on July 1, 2012, they constituted 5.5% of the Canadian population, up slightly from the historic low reached in 2005 (5.3%). However, children under five are still proportionally less numerous than in 1982, when they comprised 7.3% of the total population.

Working-age population (15 to 64 years of age)

On July 1, 2012, the number of persons aged 15 to 64 was estimated at 24,030,500 or 68.9% of the Canadian population. This proportion is 0.6 percentage points higher than in 1982. According to the most recent population projections, the proportion of the population that is of working age could gradually decline to 60% by the early 2030s, when the baby boomers will all have crossed the age 65 threshold. The proportion of persons of working age varies from one part of Canada to another, reaching its highest levels at the national scale in Yukon (73.5%) and, among the provinces, in Alberta (70.6%) and British Columbia (69.3%).

The working-age population can be divided into two groups: the younger segment (aged 15 to 39) and the older segment (aged 40 to 64). On July 1, 2012, the younger segment comprised 49.0% of the working-age population. On the other hand, the older segment of the working-age population has exceeded the younger segment since 2005. In 1982, the younger segment of the working-age population comprised 64.1% of the population aged 15 to 64.

Senior population (65 years and over)

The population aged 65 and over continues to grow. On July 1, 2012, the roughly 5,186,800 people aged 65 and over comprised 14.9% of the Canadian population (see Chart 2.4). In 1982, seniors comprised 9.7% of the population. The aging of the population in Canada is expected to accelerate between 2012 and 2031, when all of the vast cohort of baby boomers will have reached age 65.

The proportion of persons aged 65 and over differs from one part of Canada to another, ranging from 3.3% in Nunavut to 17.2% in Nova Scotia. The most recent projections show that by 2036, seniors could constitute more than one-fourth of the population. According to these same projections, seniors could outnumber children by 2017.

Very elderly population (80 years and over)

Having grown steadily, the population aged 80 and over was estimated at 1,426,900 on July 1, 2012. In 2012, this population comprised 4.1% of the Canadian population, compared with 1.9% in 1982. Demographic projections indicate that in 2036, 7.6% of Canadians could be 80 years of age or older.

Also, persons aged 80 or over account for an increasing share of the population aged 65 and over. On July 1, 2012, 27.5% of the population aged 65 and over was aged 80 and over. This proportion was estimated at 19.2% in 1982 but could reach 32,0% toward 2036.

International comparisons

Population aging is a characteristic of the populations of most developed countries. Despite its aging, Canada's population is still younger than that of many countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). According to recent international data, 4  the proportion of seniors in Canada remains below the proportions registered in Japan (24%), Germany (21%), France (17%) and the United Kingdom (17%). However, it is slightly higher than those recorded in Australia (14%) and the United States (13%). Because of the sizable demographic weight of the baby boom cohort in Canada, the proportion of seniors could be higher than in other countries in the coming years.

Portrait of provinces and territories

Population aging

Population aging does not affect all parts of Canada in the same way. On July 1, 2012, Canada's younger populations were found in the territories and in the Prairies, and the older populations in the Atlantic provinces (Table 2.1). The youngest populations in Canada were found in Nunavut (24.7 years) and the Northwest Territories (32.1 years), owing to higher fertility and lower life expectancy.

Not only do the Atlantic provinces have older populations, but those populations have aged more rapidly in the past 30 years (Chart 2.5). This is a trend that goes back a number of years; it is attributable to regional differences in demographic behaviours, in particular the change over time in fertility, which was first higher, then lower than the national average, and substantial losses with respect to interprovincial migration.

In 1982, the provinces and territories had a very different demographic profile with regard to population aging. The provinces whose populations had the highest median ages were British Columbia (31.0 years), Ontario (30.7 years), Quebec (30.0 years) and Manitoba (30.0 years). On the other hand, the province with the lowest median age was Newfoundland and Labrador (25.8 years).

Sex ratio

The populations of the provinces and territories differ not only in their age structure but also in their sex structure (Chart 2.6). In 1982, the places with the highest sex ratios were Yukon and the Northwest Territories, with 112 males per 100 females, and among the provinces, Alberta, with 105 males per 100 females.

Since 1982, the sex structure of the populations of the provinces and territories has changed, in part because of the population aging process. The proportion of males has declined throughout Canada except in Quebec and Manitoba. On July 1, 2012, it was once again the territories and Alberta that posted the highest sex ratios in Canada. The Northwest Territories ranked first with 108 males per 100 females, followed by Nunavut (105); these are both places with high fertility and a young population. Among the provinces, Alberta had the highest sex ratio (104), mainly because it too has a younger population; males outnumber females in the youngest populations. Finally, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia were the provinces with the lowest sex ratio (95) on July 1, 2012.

Provincial and territorial variations

Newfoundland and Labrador

On July 1, 2012, 16.6% of the population of Newfoundland and Labrador was aged 65 and over. Its median age, estimated at 44.2 years, was the highest in Canada. In the past 30 years, this province's median age has risen by 18.4 years, the largest increase in Canada. Thus, Newfoundland and Labrador has gone from being the province with the lowest median age in 1982 to the one with the highest median age. This province combines low fertility with substantial migratory losses, two factors that contribute to population aging.

Prince Edward Island

The median age of Prince Edward Island's population stood at 42.6 years on July 1, 2012, while the proportion of its population that was aged 65 and over was estimated at 16.4%. Among the Atlantic provinces, Prince Edward Island had the lowest median age and the lowest proportion of persons aged 65 and over. Also, 15.7% of the province's population was under 15 years of age, the highest proportion in the Atlantic region. Prince Edward Island is the province with the highest fertility in that region.

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia had one of the oldest populations in Canada. The share of its population that was aged 65 and over was estimated at 17.2%, the highest proportion in Canada. Also, its median age was 43.4 years, the second highest figure after Newfoundland and Labrador. This situation is due both to lower fertility and to interprovincial migratory losses.

New Brunswick

On July 1, 2012, 17.0% of the population of New Brunswick was aged 65 and over, the second highest figure in Canada. Its median age was estimated at 43.4 years, up 14.9 years since 1982. Like the other Atlantic provinces, New Brunswick has a fertility rate below the national average and losses in its migratory exchanges with the rest of Canada.


The population of Quebec was slightly older than that of Canada as a whole. On July 1, 2012, 16.2% of this province's population was aged 65 and over, while its median age was 41.5 years, the highest figures west of the Atlantic provinces. Quebec has continual migratory losses and a fertility rate that until recently was below the national average.


Population estimates indicate that on July 1, 2012, Ontario had a slightly younger population than that of Canada as a whole. The median age of Ontario's population was 39.8 years, while the proportion of the population aged 65 and over was 14.6%. Since 1982, this province's median age has risen by 9.1 years, an increase slightly lower than for Canada as a whole.


On July 1, 2012, 14.2% of the population of Manitoba was aged 65 and over and its median age was estimated at 37.6 years. On the other hand, 18.8% of this province's population was 0 to 14 years of age, the highest proportion for a province after Saskatchewan. Manitoba has had the lowest median age since 1982 (7.6 years) because of a fertility rate above the national average.


On July 1, 2012, Saskatchewan had the largest proportion of persons aged 0 to 14 of any province (19.1%). Also, 14.7% of this province's population was aged 65 and over and its median age was estimated at 37.1 years. The median age in Saskatchewan was down 0.3 years from the previous year. This situation is due to having the highest fertility of all the provinces and net international migration that has increased substantially in the past few years.


Among the provinces, Alberta had the youngest population on July 1, 2012. Its median age was 36.1 years, while its proportion of persons aged 65 years and over was estimated at 11.1%, with both these figures being the smallest for any province. Moreover, Alberta had the highest proportion of working-age persons of any province (70.6%). Alberta is characterized by high fertility and major gains from interprovincial migration

British Columbia

On July 1, 2012, the median age of British Columbia's population was 41.4 years, while the proportion of persons aged 65 and over was estimated at 15.9%, with both these figures being the highest west of Quebec. This situation is due to lower fertility and longer life expectancy.


On July 1, 2012, Yukon was the place in Canada with the largest proportion of working-age persons (73.5%). This territory also had highest median age (39.4 years) and the largest proportion of persons aged 65 and over (9.4%) of the three territories. Yukon stands out from the other two territories in that its fertility rate is closer to the national average.

Northwest Territories

The Northwest Territories had the youngest population after Nunavut. Approximately one person in five (21.4%) living in this territory was under 15 years of age, while only six persons in 100 (6.2%) were aged 65 and over. The median age of the Northwest Territories population was estimated at 32.1 years. This territory has a fertility rate much higher than the national average, surpassed only by that of Nunavut.


Nunavut has the youngest population in Canada. The median age of Nunavut's population (24.7 years) and its proportion of persons aged 65 and over (3.3%) are by far the lowest in Canada. Furthermore, 31.7% of the population of Nunavut is under 15 years of age, a proportion almost twice the national average. Nunavut has the highest fertility in Canada, approximately two times higher than the national average.


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