Senior citizens in Canada now outnumber children for the first time, according to a Statistics Canada report released on Tuesday.  The figures represent a fundamental and unprecendented shift from historic trends, and it remains to be seen whether Canada has done enough planning to deal with the challenges it will bring.  Many demographers are worried that people still don’t fully appreciate the toll such drastic societal change will have on health systems, public services and the tax-paying workforce, and are not planning for change as urgently as they should be.   

On July 1, 2015, people 65 and older made up 16.1 per cent of the Canadian population, for the first time surpassing the 16 per cent who under 15.  And the numbers of senior citizens is only going to grow according to projections.  By July 1, 2024, they are expected to account for one-fifth (20.1 per cent) of the Canadian population, and 16.3 per cent of the population will be children under 15.  The highest ratio difference was in Nova Scotia, with nearly 19 per cent seniors compared with 14 per cent children.

Despite this, during 2014-15 Canada’s population growth was actually the highest of the G7 nations with a rate of 0.9 per cent growth according to Statscan, evidencing that Canada is not alone in facing these issues. The United States, France and Germany reported 0.7, 0.2 and 0.1 per-cent increases, respectively.

Demographer David Foot, interviewed by the Financial Post, warns that the latest figures represent the early days of a trend that is likely to persist for at least a decade and that its most serious implication, the increased toll on Canada’s health care system, won’t be felt for some time, commenting that: “They’re still fairly young seniors. They’re in their late 60s … Many of them are still working and paying taxes.”

Amanda Grenier, director of McMaster University’s Gilbrea Centre for Studies in Aging, also warns that policy-makers need reconsider how to organize society to cater to the needs of an aging population:

“We haven’t necessarily had the national debates we should be having around aging … That could be on dementia, that could be on care, that could be on cities. We have a bit of catching up to do as a country.”

Grenier said urban planners would also be wise to begin adapting their techniques and marshalling their resources to accommodate the needs of a population that tends to be less mobile than their younger counterparts.

Only yesterday I received a pamphlet in the mail from the Auckland council saying there will now be fewer bus stops on my road but, presumably to make up for that, more frequent services.  It crossed my mind that elderly people may not be able to make it to a bus stop that is a bit of a walk away.  How the increased elderly population will affect the use of transport, healthcare, and other public services are all questions many societies around the world, including Canada, need to be asking now.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...