History Of Population Aging
Data on the aging of Canada's population over the twentieth century are shown in Table 1. Although the population over age sixty-five increased 2.5 times between 1901 and 2001 (from 5.0 percent to 12.6 percent), the rate of change was not uniform over the century. During the first half of the century population aging progressed at a gradual pace, so that by midcentury 7.8 percent of all Canadians over sixty-five. This aging occurred primarily because of declining fertility, and would have been greater if there had not been large-scale immigration during the first several decades. Because immigrants were concentrated in the young adult ages, their large flow temporarily reduced the proportion of the population that was old. Then, in response to the baby boom and revival of immigration after World War II, the proportion of elderly in the population actually declined slightly between 1951 and 1961 (from 7.8 percent to 7.6 percent). During the last third of the century, Canada experienced very low fertility and rapid population aging occurred. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, the proportion of the population over age sixty-five reached an all time high of 12.6 percent.
Data in Table 1 also show that the proportion in the oldest-old category (over eighty-five) more than tripled between 1951 and 2001. That population is of special interest because people at this stage of life are the heaviest users of health care services. Despite the rapid increase in the oldestold category, it still constitutes less than 2 percent of the total population. An even more extreme age category is centenarians. The 1921 census found only 183 persons over age one hundred, but the number in this category grew to over three thousand by 2001 (a sixteen-fold increase).
Statistics Canada makes projections of the population by age and sex, and their projected age distributions for the years 2011 and 2026 are shown in Table 1. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, population aging is expected to continue at about the same pace it followed at the end of the previous century. But then starting in 2011, an unprecedented increase in the older population is anticipated. In just fifteen years, the percent of elderly will jump from 14.5 percent to 21.4 percent. The explanation for this dramatic development is, of course, the baby boom (1945 to 1963), and the subsequent baby bust. The first wave of the baby boom will reach age sixty-five around 2010, and then for nearly two decades successive cohorts of baby boomers will be crossing the threshold of old age. Canada, like other industrialized countries, will face a challenge of how to maintain its pension and health care benefits for older people in an era when the ratio of retired persons to workers is so much greater than it has ever been before.