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Census 2021: Canada’s Cultural Diversity Continues to Increase

Published Oct 26, 2022, 03:20 PM by Doug Norris, PhD - Senior Vice President and Chief Demographer
Dr. Doug Norris explores the sixth wave of data released from the 2021 Census highlighting the ethnocultural and religious diversity of Canada and the mobility and migration of the population


The sixth wave of data from the 2021 Census was released by Statistics Canada this morning, covering two topics: (i) the ethnocultural and religious diversity of Canada and (ii) the mobility and migration of the population. 


Canadians report having many different ethnic origins

Ethnicity is the broadest measure of cultural diversity. In 2021, over 450 ethnic origins or ancestries were reported by the Canadian population. In the Census, a person can report having up to six different ethnic origins. Over 60 percent of Canadians reported a single origin and 36 percent of Canadians reported having multiple ethnic origins. The largest single origin was Canadian, reported by 18 percent of the population. An additional 12 percent reported Canadian in combination with other origins. 

Multiple reporting was highest for English, Canadian, Scottish, Irish and French, groups long settled in Canada. North American Indigenous ancestries were reported by 2.2 million persons, representing 6.1 percent of the total population. 

After Canadian, English, Scottish, Irish and French origins, the largest origins reported alone or in combination with other origins by over one million persons were German (3.0 million), Chinese (1.7 million), Italian (1.5 million), First Nations (1.4 million), Indian (1.3 million) and Ukrainian (1.3 million). 


Immigrants now make up close to 25 percent of Canada’s population

Permanent resident immigrants now represent 23 percent of the total Canadian population, the highest level since Confederation. An additional 2.5 percent (925,000) of the population were in Canada as non-permanent residents, including students, temporary workers or refugee claimants. 

The Census reported that 1.3 million permanent resident immigrants arrived since 2016. This was up from 1.2 million in the previous five-year period. The majority of these new immigrants (56 percent) were admitted under the economic category, 26 percent were admitted under the family class to join family already in Canada and 16 percent were refugees to Canada. 

As in past years, in 2021, the pattern of recent immigrant settlement was concentrated in four provinces: Ontario (44 percent), Quebec (15.3 percent), British Columbia (14.9 percent) and Alberta (14.5 percent). Although smaller, the number of recent immigrants in the Atlantic provinces (46,600) was up 67 percent compared to the 2011-2016 period. 

Approximately three quarters of all immigrants in Canada are living in the 6 largest census metropolitan areas (CMAs), accounting for 47 percent of the total population. In the Toronto CMA, 47 percent of the population are immigrants, and in the Vancouver CMA, 42 percent are immigrants. Next in terms of concentration was Calgary (32 percent). 

Overall 44 percent of the Canadian population are first or second generation (the children of immigrants). First- and second-generation Canadians account for 80 percent of Toronto’s CMA total population and 73 percent of Vancouver’s CMA total population. 

Asia accounted for 62 percent of recent immigrants arriving between 2016-2021. Africa was the second source continent accounting for 15.6 percent, with Europe at 10.1 percent. India was the top country of origin for recent immigrants, numbering 247,000, up 67 percent from the number in the 2016 Census. The next four countries of origin for recent immigrants were the Philippines (151,000), China (118,000), Syria (63,000), Nigeria (40,000) and United States (40,000). The largest increase for countries with at least 25,000 recent immigrants were Nigeria, Syria and India. Countries with significant drops in the number of recent immigrants were Iran, the Philippines and Pakistan. 

Bar graphs showing the number of immigrants in Canada from 2016-2021 and change since 2011-2016 by country of birth.
Pictured above: bar graph showing increases in immigrants to Canada by country of birth (2016 - 2021) and percent change (2011 - 2016).


It is noteworthy that one in four immigrants who gained their permanent status since 1980 had prior experience in Canada as a student, temporary worker or in some other capacity. The percent with prior experience was highest for recent arrivals during 2016-2021 (36 percent). 

Overall, in 2020, 12 percent of immigrants lived in a low-income (LIM after tax) household compared to 10.1 percent for the non-immigrant population. The low- income rate was 14.9 percent for those who arrived 2016-2019. Low-income rates were lower in 2020, in part due to pandemic related income payments. 


Eighty-five percent of eligible immigrants are now Canadian citizens

In 2021, 85 percent of immigrants who arrived before 2016 were Canadian citizens. Of those who immigrated before 2000, 94 percent were Canadian citizens compared to 84 percent of those who immigrated between 2001-2010 and 57 percent of immigrants who arrived between 2011-2015. Of immigrants with Canadian citizenship, 56 percent had only Canadian citizenship while 44 percent had dual citizenship. 


Nearly one in four Canadians reported themselves as a member of one of 10 racialized groups

The concept of "racialized" population is derived directly from the "visible minority group" variable in the Census and therefore refers to the persons belonging to a visible minority group. 

In 2021, 9.6 million Canadians (26.5 percent) reported themselves as members of one of the 10 racialized groups. This is an increase from 22.3 percent in 2016 and less than 5 percent in 1981. 

The racialized population increased by 20 percent over the period between 2016-2021, compared to virtually no change for the non-racialized population. Recent Statistics Canada projections of diversity indicate that the racialized population may double over the next 20 years and account for 41 percent of the total Canadian population in 2041. Virtually all the population growth over the next 20 years would be accounted for by the growth of the racialized population. 

The largest racialized groups were South Asians (2.6 million), Chinese (1.7 million) and Black (1.5 million). The fastest growing group was persons who reported belonging to more than one racialized group (up 30 percent). Most other groups grew by over 20 percent except Korean (13 percent), Chinese (8 percent) and Japanese (6 percent). 

Although the majority of people in racialized groups are first generation (69 percent), nearly a third are second and higher generations. 


Two-thirds of Canadians affiliate with a Christian religion but non-Christian religions are the fastest growing

In 2021, 19.4 million (53 percent) of Canadians affiliated with a Christian religion, 4.4 million (12.1 percent) affiliated with a non-Christian religion and 12.6 million (35 percent) indicated no religious affiliation. 

Pie chart showing the population in Canada by religious affiliation, 2021.

Pictured above: pie chart showing Canada's population by religious affiliation and bar graph showing the breakdown of religions (2021).


Between 2011 and 2021, the population of Christian religions declined by 12 percent and the population of non-Christian groups increased by 51 percent, largely reflecting the religious composition of recent immigrant groups. The fastest growing were “Other religions and spiritual traditions” (up 75 percent), Sikh (70 percent), Muslim (69 percent) and Hindu (66 percent). Those reporting Jewish increased by 2 percent and Buddhist declined by 3 percent. Persons having no religious affiliation increased by 58 percent. 


Forty percent of Canadians moved within 5 years (2016-2021)

Between 2016 and 2021, 39 percent of Canadians moved at least once; 17 percent moved within their municipality, 17 percent moved to a different municipality and 5 percent moved from outside Canada. Over the one-year of period 2020-2021, 12 percent of the population moved at least once. 


Implications for marketers


With Canada’s population drawn from many parts of the world, marketers need to understand how the needs and preferences of consumers vary. The way consumers hear and interpret information may be shaped by their past, and marketers will need to consider these influences when developing messaging and promotion campaigns. 

The immigrant population will account for much of the future growth of the overall Canadian population and therefore attracting them will be essential for a business to grow. However, the immigrant population is very diverse in terms of their demographic characteristics, ethnic origins and their degree of acculturation in Canada. 

While businesses increasingly want to connect with new markets, this fast-growing, diverse population presents marketers with a number of challenges. A first obstacle involves understanding the extent to which your current customer base includes various cultural communities. As diversity spreads out from the traditional markets of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, attention needs to be given to other urban areas with a growing immigrant population. 

Another challenge for businesses is defining the target population of interest. The Census provides a rich source of data on the ethno-cultural diversity of the Canadian population. For example, marketers must decide on whether to focus on the entire group or only more recent immigrants. Should the second generation be included? Should temporary residents be included given that many have been in Canada for a number of years prior to gaining permanent status. 

Even within a broad target group of interest, marketers must determine what sub-population they want to engage. Is a broad category—such as South Asian or Latin American consumers—sufficient or do marketers need to further target a group in terms of origin countries or languages? Should they focus separately on the Chinese populations from Hong Kong and Mainland China or those who speak Mandarin or Cantonese? The decision on what groups to target depends in part on the extent to which factors such as values, media and consumer behaviour are distinct. 

Another important question concerns which language to use when communicating messages and placing ads in multicultural media. The Census provides data on a number of different language dimensions, including mother tongue, language spoken most often at home, other languages spoken regularly at home and knowledge of languages. Marketers should keep in mind that knowledge and use of English and French vary widely in these groups. A related question for consideration is the extent to which various groups consume multicultural media. Clearly, increasing diversity presents both opportunities and challenges for marketers. 

Historically, the focus on immigrants has been mostly directed at permanent resident immigrants. However, in recent years there are over a million persons a year who are in Canada as temporary residents; most as international students or temporary workers. Although many may stay only a few years, they all require products and services while in Canada. Also, increasingly sizable numbers of temporary immigrants transfer to a permanent status, after completing their studies and/or gaining Canadian work experience. In 2021, nearly half of new permanent residents had transferred from a temporary status. 

As a result of the increasing interest in attracting immigrants, particularly new immigrants, Environics Analytics has recently developed, NewToCanada. This product is based on data obtained directly from Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and is modelled down to the census dissemination area level. NewToCanada includes up-to-date data on both permanent and temporary immigrants broken down by country or region of origin and data are updated on a quarterly basis. Data can be linked to EA’s PRIZM® segmentation system to better understand the characteristics of new immigrant groups. 

Finally, recent data suggests mobility and migration patterns of Canadians are changing. To better monitor mobility patterns, EA is developing another new product, MoverStats, that will track moves on a very timely basis. Watch for it in the coming months. 


A more detailed analysis of these Census results will be presented in a webinar scheduled for 2:00 p.m. EDT on Thursday, November 3. You may register here.


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