Assumptions and scenarios

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Assumptions regarding Aboriginal peoples
Assumptions regarding non-Aboriginal people
Projection scenarios

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The prospective data presented here are based on a set of assumptions on both the population of the groups projected at the outset and the future evolution of the components likely to affect the size and composition of that population. These assumptions were grouped together in a limited number of scenarios designed to show what would happen in the coming years if the underlying assumptions were proven correct. These scenarios were developed on the basis of the following criteria:

  • They had to be plausible based on our knowledge of the present and past demography of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations;
  • Together, they had to form a broad enough range of future possibilities to reflect uncertainty regarding the demographic future of Aboriginal populations. This uncertainty, which is inherently central to any projection exercise, has an added dimension in the case of projections of Aboriginal identity due to the limitation of the available data and the difficulty to foresee the role that intragenerational ethnic mobility could play over a span of 25 years;
  • Finally, they had to be useful for the planning of public policies that affect the populations of interest.

The scenarios chosen consist of two sets of assumptions that differ in their content and their genesis. The first set, described in Section 2.1, consists of assumptions specific to Aboriginal peoples. These assumptions were developed by the Statistics Canada population projections team, together with representatives of the departments funding the projections, namely Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Canadian Heritage, and Citizenship and Immigration Canada. They were also brought to the attention of the members of the project's scientific committee (composed of academics and demographers interested in Aboriginal issues, population projections and microsimulation) whose mandate was to make comments and suggestions on the methods, assumptions and scenarios used for these projections.

The second set, very briefly summarized in Section 2.2, consists of assumptions regarding non-Aboriginal populations. These were drawn from the assumptions developed for the Projections of the Diversity of the Canadian Population, 2006 to 2031. The assumptions and scenarios for these projections are the result of a detailed analysis of recent demographic data, a consensus among several federal departments and discussions with the scientific committee formed in conjunction with this project. They were also discussed in consultations with demographers and data users.

Assumptions regarding Aboriginal peoples

This section describes the main projection assumptions regarding Aboriginal populations (see Table 2), as well as the reasons why they were selected from among an infinite number of possible assumptions. The assumptions described are those relating to the more traditional demographic components, namely fertility, mortality and migration, as well as those concerning intergenerational and intragenerational ethnic mobility. For more information on other components (e.g., education, marital status), the reader is invited to consult the document Projections of the Diversity of the Canadian Population, 2006 to 2031.

Table 2 Key assumptions relating to Aboriginal peoples being used for the analysis of the population projections by Aboriginal identity in Canada, 2006 to 2031


Since the late 1960s, the fertility of Aboriginal populations has declined substantially. This finding applies both to populations of Aboriginal origin (Ram, 2004) and to Registered Indian populations (Guimond and Robitaille, 2009). Despite this decline, the fertility of Aboriginal populations remains higher than that observed among the rest of the Canadian population. In 2005/2006, the total fertility rate was estimated at approximately 2.7 children for women of Inuit identity, 2.4 for those of North American Indian identity and 1.8 for women of Métis identity, compared to 1.6 for the rest of the population. These fertility levels are quite similar to those for 2000/2001 for the three Aboriginal groups,Note 1 indicating that the decline in recent decades did not continue into the most recent period. The analyses conducted in connection with these projections also reveal that these fertility differences between the Aboriginal identity groups remain even when controlling for Registered Indian status, detailed place of residence, marital status, education, age and number of children at home. As Table 3 shows, the odds of bearing a child in 2005/2006 were 2.05 for Inuit women, 1.49 for North American Indian women and 1.23 for Métis women, all higher than that of the non-Aboriginal women (1.00). These data also show that for women, being a Registered Indian and living on a reserve are independently associated with fertility, positively so in both cases.

Table 3 Odds ratio of giving birth to a child according to a selection of variables, Canada, 2005/2006

Do the cultural and socio-economic specificities that can be assumed to be related to Aboriginal peoples' different fertility ensure that the fertility of these populations will exceed that of non-Aboriginal people on a lasting basis? Or, on the contrary, should we expect that in adopting a lifestyle that they largely share—increasingly so—with non-Aboriginal people, Aboriginal peoples will see their fertility behaviours become more similar to those of the overall population? Since we were unable to resolve these questions, we decided to formulate two fertility assumptions for Aboriginal peoples. Under the first assumption, fertility remains constant until 2031.Note 2 This implies a continuation of the relative fertility differences between Aboriginal peoples and the rest of the population, and between the different subgroups that comprise the Aboriginal population, as we were able to estimate them using the 2006 Census.Note 3 Under the second assumption, the fertility of Aboriginal groups gradually declines, a process whereby the gap separating those groups from the rest of the population is reduced by half by 2031. Since under this assumption, the size of the decrease in fertility is a function of the "excess fertility" of each of the groups considered, it seems clear that the reduction will be greater for the Inuit group than for North American Indians and will be marginal for the Métis.

Intergenerational ethnic mobility

Generally favourable to Aboriginal populations, especially the Métis, intergenerational ethnic mobility—or the transmission of Aboriginal identity from one generation to the next—appears to be a phenomenon closely linked with the mixed nature of conjugal unions, as shown by one of the few recent studies of this phenomenon (Boucher, Robitaille and Guimond, 2009). For their part, the analyses conducted in connection with these projections point to a great similarity between the data drawn from the 2001 Census and those based on the 2006 Census: stronger retention of identity among Inuit than among North American Indians, and stronger retention among the latter than among the Métis, along with a greater propensity of non-Aboriginal mothers to report their children as Métis than North American Indian or Inuit when those children are reported as having an Aboriginal identity. It is because of this relative stability that a single assumption was formulated regarding this component, namely a continuation of the phenomenon until 2031 based on the 2006 estimates.


Studies focusing on the mortality of the Aboriginal peoples in Canada (Verma, Michalowski and Gauvin, 2004; Wilkins, Tjepkema, Mustard and Choinière, 2008; Wilkins, Uppal, Finès, Senécal, Guimond and Dion, 2008; Tjepkema and Wilkins, 2011) have shown that their mortality remains higher than that of non-Aboriginal people. The results of the studies conducted for these projections tend to corroborate those findings. The data input into the model for Inuit mortality (based on a geographic approach) indicate, for the period 2004 to 2007, a life expectancy of 68 years for men and 74 years for women, approximately 10 years less than for the Canadian population as a whole. Proportional hazards models estimated for men and women aged 25 and over based on 1991 Census data combined with vital statistics for 1991 to 2001 in turn show that North American Indians, whether they live on or off reserve, have a higher mortality than Métis, which in turn is higher than that of non-Aboriginal people, even when controlling for age, place of residence, education, immigration period and visible minority group (see Figures 1a and 1b). For women, the estimated risks of dying were more than 1.5 times higher for each Aboriginal group than for the total population. For men, they were between 1.21 and 1.38 times higher.

Figure 1a Hazard ratios of dying for men according to Aboriginal identity group, Canada, 1991 to 2001

Figure 1b Hazard ratios of dying for women according to Aboriginal identity group, Canada, 1991 to 2001

Because of the relatively limited sensitivity of the projection results to mortality over a time span of only 25 years, a single mortality assumption was formulated. Under this assumption, the life expectancy of Aboriginal peoples would rise at the same rate as the rate assumed for non-Aboriginal people, which means that the mortality differences between these populations are assumed to remain constant.

International migration

The number of immigrants with an Aboriginal identity, all immigration periods combined, was estimated at approximately 7,000 in the 2006 Census, representing approximately 0.6% of all Aboriginal people. The vast majority of these immigrants were North American Indians born in the United States. On the other hand, while we have no information on the number of emigrants with an Aboriginal identity, it seems likely that this number is also low and that the United States is the main destination for that emigration. Owing to the low numbers involved and the lack of a measure of emigration, in these projections we assume zero net international migration for Aboriginal peoples through to 2031.

Internal migration

Aboriginal peoples' profile with respect to internal migration differs in several respects from that of the rest of the population. The study by Dion and Coulombe (2008) in particular showed that from 2005 to 2006, Aboriginal peoples had a greater propensity to migrate than non-Aboriginal people, and that in comparison to the latter, migrants with an Aboriginal identity tended less often to settle in the CMAs of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver but tended more often to choose remote rural areas or the territories as their destination. It has also been found (Norris and Clatworthy, 2003; Cooke and Bélanger, 2006)—and confirmed by data from the 1996, 2001 and 2006 censuses analyzed for these projections—that Indian reserves generally tend to have positive net internal migration, with migration therefore contributing recurrently to their population growth. Lastly, Aboriginal peoples' propensity to migrate, like that of the rest of the population, is tending to decline over time. This is largely due to demographic aging, since older people are, on average, less "mobile" than younger people.

Two assumptions on internal migration were developed in connection with these projections. The first is based on migration patterns for the periods 1995/1996, 2000/2001 and 2005/2006, estimated from the last three censuses. It calls for a slight decrease in the probabilities of migrating over time, estimated for each Aboriginal identity group from 1996 to 2006.Note 4 Basing the assumption on three periods serves to reduce the analytical difficulties related to the small numbers involved and to lessen temporary effects—often sizable in the case of migration—which can affect data based on a single period. The second assumption is identical to the first except that net migration on Indian reserves is assumed to be nil. The justification for this is that because of potential limitations on real estate development, some reserves might not be able to accommodate a steady influx of migrants at the levels seen in the past.

Intragenerational ethnic mobility

Studies on intragenerational ethnic mobility—in this case, the change in the reporting of Aboriginal identity over time—have shown that in the recent past, this has been a major component of the increase in Métis populations and, to a lesser extent, North American Indian populations (Guimond, 1999; Guimond, 2003; Lebel, Caron Malenfant and Guimond, 2011). It is estimated that ethnic mobility was responsible for an increase of 34% in the Métis population between 1996 and 2001, and of 27% between 2001 and 2006. Among North American Indians living off reserve, the corresponding increases are 9% and 10% during the same periods. Net ethnic mobility rates, computed by dividing those increases over the population most likely to be submitted to the risk of ethnic mobility, that is, the non-Aboriginal population born in Canada and not belonging to any visible minority group, are shown in Table 4. The net rate of a non-Aboriginal person declaring him or herself as a Métis five years later was 0.31% in 1996 and 0.35% in 2001. The net rates towards the North American Indians were 0.11% in 1996 and 0.15% in 2001. These rates differ from one region to the next and are likely to decrease with age.

Table 4 Estimated net ethnic mobility, Canada, 1996 to 2006 and 2001 to 2006

Are we to believe that ethnic mobility will continue to augment Métis and North American Indian populations at the same rate for another 25 years? Or is it instead possible that within the Canadian-born non-Aboriginal population, persons likely to report an Aboriginal identity will have already done so? The uncertainty as to how this component will evolve, along with its impact on the future size of Aboriginal populations, led to the use of two assumptions for intragenerational ethnic mobility. The first holds constant until the end of the projection period net rates of ethnic mobility computed from 1996 to 2001 and from 2001 to 2006. The second assumption foresees no ethnic mobility from 2006 to 2031.

Assumptions regarding non-Aboriginal people

For populations with no Aboriginal identity, a single assumption was adopted for each of the components considered in the model. These are the assumptions that comprise the reference scenario in Projections of the Diversity of the Canadian Population, 2006 to 2031. That scenario, which shows what would happen if the most recent trends were to continue to 2031, includes the following assumptions:

  • An average fertility of approximately 1.7 children per woman at the national level at the outset, and constant fertility gaps between the subgroups that comprise the population;
  • A moderate increase in life expectancy, and constant mortality gaps between the subgroups that comprise the population;
  • A constant immigration rate at 7.5 per thousand, with the composition by country of birth being representative of the immigration observed during the period from 2001 to 2006;
  • A total emigration rate constant at the starting rate of 1.6 per thousand, and constant emigration gaps between the subgroups that comprise the population;
  • Internal migration patterns based on those observed in the 1996, 2001 and 2006 censuses.

Readers interested in learning more details about these assumptions and the reasoning behind them, or in knowing the assumptions about the other components projected (education, marital status, departure of children from the home, etc.) are invited to consult Section 2 of Projections of the Diversity of the Canadian Population, 2006 to 2031.

Projection scenarios

Five projection scenarios were selected for analyzing the results contained in Section 4 of this report (see Table 5). Scenario 1, "No ethnic mobility and constant fertility," combines the constant fertility assumption, the nil intragenerational ethnic mobility assumption and the assumption that the migration patterns observed in 1996, 2001 and 2006 will continue to 2031. Scenario 2, "No ethnic mobility and converging fertility," is identical to Scenario 1 except for fertility, which is assumed to be convergent rather than constant. Scenario 3, "Constant ethnic mobility and constant fertility," differs from Scenario 1 only in that it assumes that intragenerational ethnic mobility will continue to 2031 instead of ceasing. Scenario 4, "Constant ethnic mobility and converging fertility," differs from Scenario 3 only in its assumption on fertility, which is convergent rather than constant. Finally, Scenario 5, "Nil net migration on reserves," assumes constant fertility, no intragenerational ethnic mobility and nil net migration on Indian reserves.

Table 5 Selected scenarios for the population projections by Aboriginal identity in Canada, 2006 to 2031

Together, these five scenarios meet the criteria set out above and lend themselves to an analysis of the impact of fertility, intragenerational ethnic mobility and some aspects of internal migration on future Aboriginal populations. For example, by comparing scenarios 1 and 3, or 2 and 4, we can see how the ethnic mobility of Aboriginal peoples is likely to leave its mark on the demography of the projected populations if everything else remains constant. By comparing scenarios 1 and 2, or 3 and 4, we can estimate the effects of a reduction in the fertility gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. Finally, a comparison of scenarios 1 and 5 will show what would happen in the coming years if internal migration ceased to be favourable to Indian reserves. For this reason, Scenario 5 is presented only when analysing future trends for the population living on reserve.

The decision to match each of these five scenarios with a single set of assumptions for non-Aboriginal populations was motivated by the objective of facilitating comparisons of one scenario with another. The use of that single set of assumptions for non-Aboriginal populations in no way means that those assumptions are considered as having a greater probability of proving correct than those that make up the other scenarios that could have been formulated.


  1. Total fertility rates based on the 2000/2001 Census were 2.7 for Inuit women, 2.5 for North American Indian women and 1.7 for Métis women, compared with 1.5 for the rest of the population.
  2. Actually, almost constant. It is assumed that for the overall population of Canada, a total fertility rate (TFR) of 1.7 children per woman is reached in 2009, in accordance with the medium assumption of the Projections of the Diversity of the Canadian Population, 2006 to 2031.
  3. However, changes in the socioeconomic composition of the projected populations may cause fertility gaps to vary, even if all the parameters are held constant. This also applies to other components, such as mortality.
  4. Controlling for all variables (see the section on methods) included in the internal migration models.
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