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Demographic Changes in Canada from 1971 to 2001 Across an Urban-to-Rural Gradient


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Demographic Changes in Canada from 1971 to 2001 Across an Urban-to-Rural Gradient

By Éric Caron Malenfant, Anne Milan, Mathieu Charron and Alain Bélanger, Demography Division, Statistics Canada

Executive summary

If low fertility, aging, demographic growth and ethnocultural diversity are phenomena that accurately describe Canada overall, the same patterns may not necessarily hold true for urban and rural areas. The rhythm and sources of demographic growth have often been significantly different from one area to the next, which would suggest that the situation across Canada stems from the aggregation of different demographies, which are variable between types of regions.

The objective of this study is to examine demographic differences between urban and rural areas in Canada by analyzing communities along a gradient ranging from the largest metropolitan regions to the most rural areas. Applying a geographic structure to Census data from 1971 to 2001 that maintains constant borders over time, the authors analyze population growth across eight types of urban and rural regions; as well as the contribution of immigration, fertility and internal migration to growth differentials; and the consequences of these observed demographic differences in terms of aging and ethnocultural diversity.

The study finds that growth is concentrated in the most metropolitan areas in the country and in the rural areas on which they have a strong influence, and diminished as the degree of rurality increases. Internal migration between the different types of areas has largely contributed to this differential growth: the most urbanized areas—with the exception of Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver—underwent significant migratory gains as well as strong growth. This was also the case with the rural regions that had a strong metropolitan influence. The most rural regions experienced a weak demographic growth, in some cases a decline, despite having higher fertility than other regions. The strong growth in the three largest urban areas in Canada—Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver—is largely attributed to the high numbers of international immigrants who decided to settle there. The concentration of newcomers in these regions helped increase the gap between these three areas and the rest of the country in terms of ethnocultural diversity. 

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