Geek looking at data

Canada is Home to More Seniors Than Children

Published May 3, 2017, 09:34 AM by Doug Norris, Ph. D.

Age-sex structure

Canada’s population continues to grow older and older. In 2016, half the population was over the age of 40. Furthermore, for the first time there were more seniors (65 and older) than children (0 to 14 years old). The percentage of seniors has risen continually during the last 50 years while the percentage of children has gradually declined. In 2016, 16.6 percent of the population was under the age of 15, up slightly from 16.4 percent in 2011 but down from a high of 34 percent in 1961, the peak of the baby boom. At the other extreme, 16.9 percent of the population was age 65 or older in 2016, up from 14.4 percent in 2011 and more than twice the percentage in 1961 (7.6 percent), the nadir of Canada’s senior population.

And as if those figures aren’t enough to make younger generations cringe, the census also reported that there were 771,000 people over the age of 85 in 2016, up nearly 20 percent from 2011. There were even 8,230 centenarians, up from 5,200 in 2011. Obviously, Canadians are living longer and are healthier in their advancing years.

Although Canada is aging, it is still younger than other G7 countries, with the exception of the United States.  While 16.9 percent of Canadians were aged 65 or over, that age group represented 14.5 percent of the U.S. population. However, other G7 countries were older, with those aged 65 or over ranging from 17.3 percent in the United Kingdom to 25.1 percent in Japan.

In 2016, females outnumbered males in Canada, making up 50.9 percent of the population. And while younger aged females were a slight minority, the percentage of women increased at older ages: women accounted for 55 percent of those over 65 and 65 percent of those 85 and over. An eye-popping 84 percent of centenarians were female. 

Although Canada’s population grew by 5 percent between 2011 and 2016, growth varied by age group, as shown in the figure below.




Three age groups, those 15 to 19, 40 to 44 and 45 to 49, actually declined in size over the period 2011-2016. On the other hand, the biggest growth occurred among those at older ages, as increasing numbers of Baby Boomers—those born between 1946 and 1965—reach their senior years and medical advances help swell the number of nonagenarians. 

In general, there is a negative correlation between population growth and the age of a population. In other words, areas growing more slowly or declining are typically home to an older population compared to areas that are growing more rapidly. For example, in the six largest urban areas that were among Canada’s fastest growing, those 65 and older represented only 12.1 percent of the population. In contrast, in rural areas of Canada outside the North that recorded little growth, or actually declined, more than 20 percent of the population were 65 or over.

Regionally, the Atlantic Provinces were Canada’s oldest, with close to 20 percent of their population 65 or older. At the other extreme, the provinces with the lowest percentage of senior citizens included Alberta (12.3 percent aged 65+), Saskatchewan (15.5 percent) and Manitoba (15.6 percent). In addition, the three northern territories—Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon—were also found to be very young: their populations aged 65 and older accounted for just 3.8 percent, 7.7 percent and 11.9 percent of the populace, respectively, in part due to their young Aboriginal population.

The fastest-growing Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs) were also among the youngest. In Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Regina, less than 14 percent of their populations were over 65. The next fastest-growing CMAs were concentrated in the Greater Golden Horseshow—Barrie, Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo, Toronto and Oshawa—and in each one, those aged 65 and older accounted for 14 percent to 15 percent of the population. By contrast, the oldest CMAs were Trois-Rivières, Peterborough, St. Catherines-Niagara, Kelowna, and Victoria, all with over 21 percent aged 65 and older.  

Among medium-sized urban areas, two stand out for their senior populations: Parksville (BC) with 44 percent who are 65 or older and Elliot Lake (ON) with 38 percent. Other areas with more than 30 percent of their populations 65 and older were Wasaga Beach (33.4 percent) and Cobourg (31.4 percent), areas attracting an increasing number of retirees.

Historically, in the largest metropolitan areas of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, the central cities were home to an older population than the suburbs. However, the 2016 Census shows that the gap between central city and suburbs has virtually closed and in fact has been reversed in Montreal and Vancouver, where the suburbs were home to a slightly higher percent of seniors compared to the central city. The age gap has closed due to more rapidly aging suburban neighbourhoods, many of which were established over 25 years ago. In Toronto, the suburban senior population increased by 31 percent, compared to 13 percent for the city; in Montreal, the difference was 23 percent versus 9 percent, and in Vancouver, 25 percent versus 19 percent.

Living arrangements of seniors

The 2016 Census reported nearly 6 million seniors over 65. And nearly 93 percent of those seniors lived in private residences with most of the remainder living in group residences for senior citizens or other health care facilities.  

The incidence of living in a health-related facility increased with age and was higher for females. Approximately 3 percent of those in their seventies lived in a heath-related facility. At ages 80 to 84, 9 percent of males and 14 percent of females were in a health-related facility, while for ages 85 and over the numbers increased to 23 percent for males and 36 percent for females


In 2016, there were 14 million private households in Canada, up from 13.3 million in 2011. The average household size was 2.4 persons, down from 2.5 in 2011.  One-person households made up 28 percent of all households, 34 percent were two-person households, 15 percent were three-person households, 14 percent were four-person households and 8 percent were households of five or more people.  

Type of dwelling

Most of the data on dwellings will be reported in later census releases. However, this release includes the structural type of these dwellings. Just over half (54 percent) were single-family dwellings, 10 percent were apartments of five or more stories and the remaining 36 percent were row, semi-detached or other types of dwellings. Although single-detached dwellings make up the majority of structures, growth over the 2011-2016 period was highest for apartments of five or more floors (13 percent) compared to 3 percent growth for single-family dwellings and 8 percent growth for other types of dwellings. The high growth rate for apartments was mainly due to the increasing popularity of condos and seniors downsizing to apartments.

Implications for marketers

Canada’s population continues to grow older, and now there are more seniors than children under age 15. The older population will continue to show high growth as Baby Boomers move into their 60s and 70s. And though incomes and expenditures are lower at older ages, the large and rapidly growing number of seniors offers potential for businesses and industries offering products and services designed for seniors, including especially the health care, travel and financial services industries. There may be increased interest among seniors to remain living in their local communities rather than move to much more expensive health care facilities, and this trend likely would result in a greater need for home care services. With decreased mobility and many seniors living alone, municipalities will also face a need for better public transportation. And businesses offering home delivery of products targeted to seniors are likely to become even more popular.

As Boomers approach their mid-seventies, they’ll likely begin downsizing their living situation, resulting in an increased interest in apartment living—including both condos and rental apartments. Assisted living residences for seniors will also likely attract increased attention as health problems become more common among aging Canadians and their ability to live independently wanes. 

A more detailed analysis of these Census results will be presented in a webinar scheduled for 2:00 p.m. EDT on Thursday, May 11. You may register here.
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