Canadians are aging and living longer, but having fewer children, setting the stage for what one expert calls “a perfect storm.”
New census data released Wednesday shows a large section of Canadians of working age are about to retire. That means their children will likely need to provide more care for them. Meanwhile, the number of children isn’t keeping up with the population of seniors.
Here’s what the data means by generation.
Boomers (aged 56 to 75)
There are now seven million Canadians aged 65-plus, according to the data. This group represents 19 per cent of Canadians, compared to 16.9 per cent in 2016.
“Older Canadians are a growing economically and politically influential group,” said Statistics Canada in a release. “They are staying healthier, active and involved for longer.”
Among them is a large group nearing retirement. Almost 22 per cent of working-age people are 55 to 64, “an all-time high in the history of Canadian censuses,” according to StatsCan. The aging population is also driving nationwide labor shortages in some industries.
The retiring population will impact the cost of seniors’ social programs in Canada, says Bonnie-Jeanne MacDonald, director of financial security research at the National Institute on Aging. “They’re really facing a perfect storm in retirement.”
Boomers may also change how we think about retirement and end of life, says a census report on the aging population, since this group “had fewer children, is working longer and has adopted different values, such as autonomy” than previous generations.
Generation X (aged 41 to 55)
Unlike their parents, Gen Xers will never be the biggest group in Canada’s population, says the census report. By the time this generation could surpass the population of baby boomers in 2036, Gen X may already be eclipsed by millennials and Gen Zers.
Generation X, along with older millennials, will have to “carry the burden” of the demographic shift.
“It’s a true sandwich generation,” MacDonald said. “They’re now supporting not only their own children, but they’re also going to be much more sandwiched than even in the past by having to support our aging population.”
She noted adult children and their families already provide about 75 per cent of home care hours for seniors.
These unpaid caregivers will need to increase their efforts by 40 per cent to keep up with care needs, due to the fewer number of children per senior, says a projection in “The Future Co$t of Long-Term Care in Canada” report by the National Institute on Aging. “Unpaid caregiving will increasingly become the reality of many more Canadians.”
Millennials (aged 25 to 40)
Millennials are the fastest-growing generation in Canada. They’ve already outnumbered baby boomers in the Toronto area and other metropolitan areas such as Edmonton and Calgary.
The group, now just shy of eight million Canadians, is projected to become the country’s biggest generation by 2029, outnumbering baby boomers for the first time, says the census report.
Millennials also comprise the biggest share — one-third — of the working-age population, this may impact the labor market. For example, the demographic changes could cause a shift in attitudes toward work-life balance, loyalty to an employer, and flexibility in work schedules, the report notes.
The population of 25- to 40-year-olds grew 8.6 per cent in the last five years, which the report credits to immigration, despite the pandemic. By contrast, the overall population grew by 5.2 per cent. More than half of the immigrants who settled in Canada since 2016 were millennials, the report says.
Women are overall tending to have fewer children, reaching a “historic low” fertility rate of 1.4 children in 2020, adds the report.
“Younger generations, such as millennials and Generation Z, are more educated and diverse than previous generations,” the report says. “These generations, who are still young, are more exposed to ethnocultural, religious and gender diversity and have grown up in an interconnected technological world that has a significant impact on their values and lifestyles.”
Generation Z (aged 9 to 24)
Gen Zers were the second-fastest growing generation, rising 6.4 per cent to 6.7 million Canadians in 2021, the report says. That growth is on pace to potentially outnumber boomers in 2032 and millennials in 2045.
They are also expected to represent more than 31 per cent of working age Canadians by 2031, when all baby boomers will be 65 or older.
MacDonald said the changing age demographics may offer an opportunity to think about bringing younger people together with older generations to help address their needs. For example, long-term care homes and daycares could be built next to one another.
“This is traditionally what’s been done within families … grandparents take care of the grandchildren,” she said. “But is there a way to do this societally?”
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