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Demographic estimates are the cornerstone of statistical measurement for the population and are put to a wide variety of uses to better understand the economic and social situation in Canada. Their importance is underscored by the statutory requirements for the calculation of revenue transfers and cost-sharing programs between the various levels of government. As the National Statistical Agency responsible for these data, among others, timeliness, accuracy and reliability of these data are of the utmost importance.
Every five years, Statistics Canada conducts a national census of population, through which a wide range of demographic data is collected on the Canadian population. The census collects information on citizens, immigrants and non-permanent residents (NPR) residing in Canada. While some countries have a system of continuous population registration from which to obtain basic demographic data on the state and movement of the population for non-census years, it is not the case in Canada.
At a five year interval, the census cannot fill the need for timely data that are required by the various statistical programs in Statistics Canada as well as outside users of data. To fill this gap in the information system, Statistics Canada has a Demographic Estimates Program. By using the most recent census data collected by Statistics Canada and administrative data provided by other government departments, various methodological techniques are used to produce estimates of the Canadian population between censuses1.
In 1987, Statistics Canada published its first manual detailing the procedures used for estimating population, called Population Estimation Methods, Canada (Catalogue no. 91-528). The manual represented a direct response to a long-standing policy at Statistics Canada that requires the methods used to produce the Bureau's statistical information to be open to public scrutiny. The manual was updated in 2003 and 2007 and again herein to document conceptual and methodological changes that have been made to the Demographic Estimates Program.
Data quality indicators and analysis of demographic estimates is important information for users of these estimates and to Statistics Canada in fulfilling its role as being the National Statistical Agency responsible for these data. Ongoing quality indicators are available in the annual and quarterly publications2. In addition, the 1987 and 2003 versions of the report included a discussion on the data quality of the various components of demographic growth. In the previous and current versions of the report, the discussion on the quality indicators has been removed. The analysis of these quality indicators and special data quality evaluations will be featured on their own in a companion publication on data quality indicators and analysis.
This manual is intended to be a compendium of the methods and the current procedures used by Statistics Canada to produce and release population and family estimates.
Essentially, there are two categories of estimates produced by Statistics Canada: postcensal and intercensal. The first category, postcensal estimates, are produced by using data from the most recent census (adjusted for census net undercoverage (CNU)3) and estimates of the components of demographic growth since that last census. These components include births, deaths, immigration, net non-permanent residents, emigration, net temporary emigration, returning emigrants and interprovincial migration. Another component, intraprovincial migration is relevant for estimates within subprovincial areas in Canada. All the elements of the production of population estimates will be discussed in this manual.
Three types of postcensal estimates are produced: preliminary, updated and final estimates, referring to the time frame in which they become available. Preliminary estimates are typically available within three to four months after the reference date while updated estimates are usually available within one year. Final estimates, the most accurate postcensal estimates available, typically take two to three years to complete. The production of three types of estimates is the strategy that best satisfies the commitment of Statistics Canada to balance the timeliness and accuracy dimensions of data quality.
Intercensal estimates are produced every five years and reconcile previous postcensal estimates with the latest census counts adjusted for census net undercoverage. They are generated as soon as census population counts and census net undercoverage become available. This process typically takes two years after census data collection to complete.
Disseminated level of detail for the estimates
Population estimates are disseminated at four geographic levels, including province and territory, census division, census metropolitan area and economic region. Demographic estimates at custom-defined subprovincial levels (e.g., census subdivision, urban centres, health regions, etc.) are possible and can be estimated through cost-recovery special tabulations. For timeliness, and because some components of demographic growth are not available until several months after the reference date, three kinds of postcensal estimates are produced: preliminary postcensal (PP), updated postcensal (PR)4 and final postcensal (PD)5. Intercensal estimates are produced using postcensal estimates and counts from two consecutive censuses adjusted for census net undercoverage. According to the level of geography and type of estimates, different demographic characteristics of the population, including age and sex are produced. Table I shows the level of detail and the reference period for which demographic estimates are disseminated.
Table I Availability of population estimates and components of demographic growth
|Type of estimate*
|Canada, provinces and the territories
|Total population and components of demographic growth
|Monthly, quarterly and annual estimates
|Population and components of demographic growth
|Census division / census metropolitan area / economic region
|Population and components of demographic growth
|* Note that the components are not postcensal or intercensal. They are preliminary, updated and final.
Demographic estimates at custom-defined subprovincial levels can be produced by applying synthetic estimation techniques, under the assumption that the larger geographic area's distribution still holds for lower or alternate geographies; or by regression estimation techniques, under the assumption that the known population totals, usually from the census, still hold.
Statistics Canada's official release bulletin, The Daily (Catalogue no. 11-001-X), delivers the first release of statistical data and publications produced by Statistics Canada, such as the various sets of estimates for a given reference date. It can be accessed electronically by visiting Statistics Canada's official website (www.statcan.gc.ca).
In addition, the most current population estimates and projections, as well as other demographic statistics, are available from Statistics Canada's Canadian Socio-Economic Information Management System (CANSIM)6. CANSIM is a database on time series data on a wide variety of social and economic topics made available for public use. It can be accessed on Statistics Canada's website, by CD-ROM (Catalogue no. 10F0007XCB), and on Directory Disc (Catalogue no. 10F0005XCB).
More information about demographic data and products can be obtained by contacting Statistics Canada:
Toll-free telephone (
1-800-263-1136 - Enquiries line
1-800-363-7629 - National TTY line (teletype machine)
1-877-287-4369 - Fax number
1-613-951-0581 - Fax number
150 Tunney's Pasture Driveway
Users of population and family estimates
In Statistics Canada, demographic information is used to calibrate sampling weights of many social and household based survey data, and is a fundamental part of the analytical framework for most statistical programs. Current estimates of Canada's population have other wide ranging applications in the areas of planning and program evaluation in both the public and private sectors. For example, the calculation of revenue transfers and grants under various federal statutory programs, as well as cost-sharing agreements between federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments are highly dependent on demographic data. Statistics Canada is under statutory obligation to provide the federal government with annual population figures as well as various economic indicators (e.g., gross domestic product) that have been certified by the Chief Statistician of Canada. These figures are used to determine the amounts payable under various federal-provincial fiscal arrangements, such as the Equalization and Territorial Formula Financing (TFF), the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) and the Canada Social Transfer (CST), according to a per capita funding formula. The federal government distributes billions of dollars annually in federal transfers to provinces and territories using population estimates.7
The CHT and CST are federal transfers which support specific policy areas such as health care, post-secondary education, social assistance and social services, early childhood development and child care.
The Equalization and TFF programs provide unconditional transfers to the provinces and territories. Equalization enables less prosperous provincial governments to provide their residents with public services that are reasonably comparable to those in other provinces, at reasonably comparable levels of taxation. TFF provides territorial governments with funding to support public services, in recognition of the higher cost of providing programs and services in the north.
Population is a key variable in allocation formulae used by the federal government in defining its annual spending. As billions of dollars depend directly upon these allocation formulae, timely and accurate estimates are extremely important.
The Government of Canada relies upon population data to also inform some of its most fundamental policies. For example, up-to-date information on the evolving demographic situation in Canada serves useful in informing cabinet on its decisions relating to immigration policy. In the administration of public policy, current population figures also serve to increase the cost-effectiveness of program spending.
Provincial and municipal governments also use demographic estimates for planning social programs. These governments further use estimates to establish cost-sharing agreements on the basis of per capita spending formulae. Among the public service users of Statistics Canada's estimates, are education and public health planners, public administrators responsible for policing, criminal justice, municipal administration, and waste and environmental management.
Demographic estimates are fundamental in the calculation of social and economic indicators, including birth rates, death rates, school enrolment rates, unemployment rates, life expectancy, etc. Population serves directly as the denominator in many of these indicators. Survey researchers, whether at Statistics Canada, academia, or in private polling agencies, must use up-to-date population figures in the planning of survey research and in the calculation of sampling weights.
The private sector also uses demographic estimates for business planning, marketing research and investment demographics. The estimates also help companies to properly segment and target its market, or make sound investment decisions.
Outline of this manual
The first chapter of this manual presents the overall methods used to produce population estimates and focuses on describing the various levels of estimation: postcensal and intercensal estimates. It introduces the concept of the base population and the factors of demographic growth and their components; from components that lead to "natural increase", that is births and deaths, to international effects like "international migration" (immigrants, emigration, net temporary emigration, returning emigrants and net non-permanent residents), to redistributive effects such as "interprovincial migration".
The individual chapters that follow include discussions on data sources, relevant concepts and methodology for each of these components. Each chapter will describe how estimates are produced, what data are used in the calculations and where they come from. This should give the reader a clearer picture of the strengths and weaknesses of each procedure.
Chapter 2 describes how the base population is determined and adjusted following the most recent census of the population. Chapters 3 to 7 describe the components of demographic growth for Canada, provinces and territories. Chapter 3 focuses on information on births and deaths. Chapters 4 through 6 present the components of international migration (immigration is presented in Chapter 4, net non-permanent residents in Chapter 5, and Chapter 6 deals with emigration, net temporary emigration and returning emigrants). Interprovincial migration is discussed in Chapter 7.
Chapter 8 describes the methods used to produce subprovincial population estimates. Chapter 9 focuses on the population estimates by age, sex and marital status. Finally, Chapter 10 describes the methods for estimating census families, economic entities and households. A glossary of principal terms is included at the end of this manual, in Appendix 1.
- Moreover, Statistics Canada has also developed a Population Projections Program. Based on extrapolations of past trends, these projections reflect informed hypotheses of Canada's demographic future. For more information about the Population Projections Program, please refer to Population Projections for Canada, Provinces and Territories, Catalogue no. 91-520-X.
- Refer to Quarterly Demographic Estimates, Catalogue no. 91-002-X, Annual Demographic Estimates: Canada, Provinces and Territories, Catalogue no.91-215-X and Annual Demographic Estimates: Subprovincial Areas, Catalogue no. 91-214-X.
- Unless otherwise noted, the adjustment for the census net undercoverage (CNU) also includes the incompletely enumerated Indian reserves.
- The acronym for updated postcensal estimates is PR as this level of estimates is the revised version of the preliminary postcensal estimates.
- The acronym for final postcensal estimates is PD due to its French term postcenitaires définitives.
- Data retrieved through the www.statcan.gc.ca commercial services are subject to specific conditions of use detailed in the Limited Use Data Products Licence Agreement statement associated with these services.
- "Federal Support to Provinces and Territories", on the Department of Finance Canada's website (http://www.fin.gc.ca).