The Gazette (Montreal)

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Census finds us older, making fewer babies

Montreal Gazette

With no one but women of various ages in sight, 25-year-old Cynthia Millaire strolls down Victoria Ave. in Saint-Lambert yesterday. The 2001 census data released by Statistics Canada reveal the South Shore community has the highest woman-to-man ratio in Canada - 100 women for every 79.1 men. Story, Page A3

Quebecers are getting older and aren't being replaced by new babies, setting the province up for major changes to its work force, health-care system and economy, according to census data released by Statistics Canada yesterday.

The median age of Canadians - the age at which half the population is older and half the population is younger - is at an all-time high of 37.6 years. Quebecers' median age is 38.8 years, up from 34.2 in 1991.

Our population is tied with Nova Scotia's for the oldest in the country, and we have the lowest proportion of people under the age of 19 - only 24 per cent of the province's population.

We also have the oldest major city in the country - Trois-Rivières. Côte St. Luc, which was a municipality separate from Montreal when the census was taken in 2001, had the fourth-oldest population among all Canadian municipalities with more than 5,000 residents.

Lowest Fertility Rate

"Quebec had very low fertility during the 1980s, so in 1991 it was already one of the oldest provinces, and that trend continued," said Statistics Canada analyst François Nault.

That's because our fertility rate is the lowest in the country, coupled with the fact that the baby boomers are hitting the 35-55 age group, said demographer Réal Lortie, also of Statistics Canada.

The census also found that:

-There are more senior citizens than ever, and the fastest-growing age group in the country is those 80 years or older, themselves part of a pre-Depression era baby boom. There were 3,795 people age 100 and over in Canada, and 21 per cent lived in Quebec. At the same time, the number of children age 4 and under in the province has dropped 16 per cent from 1991.

Workers Among Oldest

-Compared to other G8 countries, Canada has the oldest work force except for Japan and Germany. Along with Japan, we also have the lowest ratio of younger individuals in the work force.

-In the Montreal area, the median age is 38.1 years, up from 36.1 in 1996. The number of males here is also growing. There were 502,440 males (up 2.7 per cent from 1996) and 537,095 females (up 1.8 per cent).

The 2001 census results pose questions for government policy-makers, ranging from where to channel money for infrastructure to how to improve training and education to meet the needs of an aging society.

Dr. Lynn Beattie, a geriatrics specialist at the University of British Columbia, says there are going to have to be changes.

"Housing, transportation, quality of life, how we measure it, what people's expectations are, these are all going to be big issues," she said.

The Canadian work force is becoming dominated by older people. The number of people age 45 to 64 increased by 36 per cent between 1991 and 2001, mainly because of the aging baby boomers.

The number of young people entering the work force in Quebec compared to those retiring has dropped by half since 1966, Lortie said. That's excellent news for job-seekers, but not so good for people doing the hiring, he added.

"Companies and the public service that need qualified workers could have difficulty finding them."

The gap between the number of males and females in the country is shrinking, the census data show. There were 14.7 million males and 15.3 million females in Canada last year, despite the fact that about 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. In Quebec, there were 3.7 million females and 3.5 million males.

"The life expectancy of women is still increasing, but that of men is catching up," Nault said. "It means more and more men survive past 65; the trend is changing, and we now have a few more older men for each older woman."

Changes in Quebec society over the past century mean that middle-aged women will increasingly be responsible for taking care of their aging parents, said Lisa Dillon, a historical demographer at the Université de Montréal.

As Quebecers moved to urban centres, they had smaller families because they didn't need their children to work on their farms. Now there are fewer children to take care of aging parents, she said, and they find themselves doing it while they are still raising their own children.

But the graying of the population is not all bad news, Dillon said.

While the number of people over the age of 100 is increasing, Canada now has a growing population of healthy "young old" people between 55 and 75 years old who contribute to society in a way people that age have not historically, she said.

"People at 65 years old are not what they were 50 or 100 years ago. Many of them are finding that they still want to be active between retirement and when they are really no longer able to get around."

One hundred years ago, a 65-year-old was likely to still be caring for his or her young adult children, she said. The parent would have been helping the children set up their own farms and finding marriage partners. Now, people in that age group are doing volunteer work and are active in their communities.

The census confirms the long-standing trend in Quebec toward women having fewer children. Despite the province's progressive family policy, women are having fewer or no children.

That's happening for several reasons, including the fact that women are waiting longer to have children and they use better contraception. They're also delaying motherhood by getting educations, staying in the work force and putting a priority on time for themselves, Dillon said.

"They see their 20s as a time of freedom and they don't want to settle down. There are also increasing numbers of people who don't want to have children at all."

The census is conducted every five years by Statistics Canada. These census data are based on information filled out by Canadians on Census Day, which was May 15, 2001.

Cp contributed to this report

- Statistics Canada's Web site is There are links from the home page to the census data.

- Monique Beaudin's E-mail address is

Here are Highlights of Census Data

-Canada's median age is at an all-time high of 37.6 years, an increase of 2.3 years from the 1996 census. Median age is defined as the point where exactly one half of the population is older than the median age and the other half is younger.

-There are more senior Canadians (those age 65 and older) than ever before, representing 13 per cent of the population. The number of Canadians age 80 or over increased by 41 per cent over the past decade, to 932,000.

-There has been a sharp decline in the number of children age 4 and under - 1.7 million, down 11 per cent from a decade ago.

-There are fewer young people entering the working-age population to replace individuals in the age group nearing retirement. For every person age 55 to 64, there were 1.4 individuals in the age group 15 to 24. Statistics Canada projects the number will be equal in another decade - a development that could have serious social, economic and policy impacts.

-Eastern Canada is older than western Canada. The Atlantic provinces and Quebec all had median ages higher than the national median age. Ontario, the northern territories, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta were younger than the national median. British Columbia was the only western province older than the national median.

-Among G8 nations, Canada has a higher median age than the United States and Russia, lower than Germany, Japan and Italy and about the same as France and Britain.

-The census enumerated 3,795 people age 100 or older - a 21-per-cent increase from the last census. Women centenarians outnumbered men 4 to 1.

-The census counted 14.7 million males and 15.3 million females, a ratio of 96 men for every 100 women. There were more females than males in all provinces except Alberta, where the ratio was almost equal. However, in the three northern territories, males outnumbered females.

-Years of unemployment have driven young people out of Trois-Rivières, to make it the oldest major city in Canada.

© Copyright 2002 Montreal Gazette