New data based on Canada’s 2016 census shows that the number of seniors in Canada (aged 65+) now outnumber the young (those aged 14 or less) for the first time. In many respects, the numbers are not all that surprising: We have known for some time that Canada is aging, reflecting the aging of baby boomers, along with the country’s low fertility rates and increased life expectancy, with the proportion of seniors growing further over the next 25 years as baby boomers age into the 65+ club.
But the shift in the demographic profile of the nation – from a younger to an older one with more seniors – is still a significant milestone: Not even 50 years ago, the young were the largest segment of Canadian society (numerically and proportionately). So what is the significance of this event? For one, Canada’s aging population means that there are fewer workers supporting a growing old population (its ‘old dependency ratio), with implications for pensions, welfare, and health care provision. Relatedly, caring for the old will have significant implications for the health care system. From an economic standpoint, productivity and economic growth may be affected as individuals – and their lifetime of experience and expertise – leave employment, as well as a shift in consumption patterns towards goods and services required by the old . But the young have just as much stake in this demographic shift as the old do. How do younger age cohorts, including Millennials, ensure that their voices are heard on topics including child care, housing, and employment?
Of course, Canada is not alone in its aging population, with countries across the globe facing the challenges of providing for an aging population. Even China, which long had an excess of births and a rapidly growing population, is faced with a rapidly increasing older population, reflecting its long-running 1-child policy. The new data should, however, serve as a reminder that countries across the globe need to plan for older and aging populations. Discussions (and policy) need to consider a variety of issues including health care, how the old can be retained in the workforce beyond age 65, shifting political agendas and priorities (especially given the older are more likely to vote than the young), and aging in place. That is, how can we enable our communities to allow seniors to live safely, enjoy good health, and remain involved? It’s important to remember, however, that such ‘age friendly’ policies and programs are good not just for the old, but for all members of the community.
The aging of Canada, and other countries, reflects a slow demographic process which can be both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that countries and communities have time to plan for an aging population, and a curse in that political time horizons and planning rarely take the long-term perspective. The new data suggest that it is time we consider what our older society will look like and how to prepare for it squarely and firmly in the public agenda, for the benefit of all Canadians.
See the summary from Statistics Canada: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/170503/dq170503a-eng.htm