A population is a living entity that is constantly changing: newcomers join the population, others leave or die, everyone gets older, families form and break up, and each person’s role changes as he or she goes through the different stages of life: student, then producer- educator and, finally, retiree, either still active or not. Each individual also has certain characteristics: some that cannot be changed, like sex and mother tongue, and others that are more variable, such as occupation and place of residence. All of these factors of varying importance combine to form a complex whole. This can result in economic, cultural and political problems, problems often characterized by the slow pace at which they appear and by our governments’ failure to deal with them.
We shall now review in broad terms the most signifi- cant phenomena of the past quarter century and those that are likely to occur over the next 50 years, with an emphasis on the challenges they pose and the policies they call for.
The year 1980, which saw the founding of Policy Options, did not really mark the start of a new demographic era. The most recent period of significance began around 1970. The contraceptive pill arrived on the scene; the baby boom gave way, without pause, to the baby bust, legal marriage started to lose its almost exclusive role in conjugal life; immigration, until then primarily from Europe, began to come more and more from non-European countries; and, finally, the percentage of elderly persons in the population began to grow again, more vigorously than before. Between 1970 and 2005, the total population grew to 32 million from 21 million, a 52 percent increase in 35 years; the annual growth rate declined throughout this period, to 0.8 percent from 1.4 percent, primarily because natu- ral growth (births minus deaths) fell sharply, to 0.3 percent per year from 0.8 percent. Net immigration remained steady and has for the past ten years been the dominant factor in Canadian population growth.
The geographic distribution of the population, on the contrary, changed little, with Ontario and British Colombia gaining in percentage terms to the detriment of Quebec and the Atlantic provinces. These changes in weight are prima- rily attributable to interprovincial migration and to the geo- graphic choices of Canadian immigrants; in both cases, the push and pull factors played a critical role.
The drop in natural growth is due almost entirely to the decline in the birth rate. It is true that the crude death rate has increased slightly, but this is entirely attributable to the aging of the population, because the rates by age have decreased. In fact, between 1970 and 2005, the life expectancy at birth rose from 72 years to almost 77 for men and from 79 years to slightly more than 82 for women. The life expectancy gap between women and men shrank, per- haps in part because women have to some extent adopted men’s lifestyle, particularly as regards tobacco use. It should be noted that the risk of death from diseases of the circula- tory system has decreased by more than 50 percent for both sexes since 1970, which is a great victory for medicine.
The primary cause of the decline in natural growth is the major decrease in fertility. Fertility trends can be described by using what demographers call the total fertili- ty rate. This rate indicates the average number of children that each woman in a specific group would have during her lifetime if she were subject to the fertility rates observed during a given year for that group. In Canada, at the height of the baby boom (around 1957 to 1959), the total fertility rate was 3.8 children per woman; at the end of the baby boom (around 1965), the rate was 3.0 chil- dren; the decline has continued, with slight upticks, until now; in 1971, the rate was equal to the level of genera- tion replacement (2.1 children) and, during the last five-year period, it was down to 1.5 children. For this latest period, some 135,000 births per year would have to be added to the approx- imately 325,000 that were actually recorded in order to get back up to the replacement level. What this means, in practical terms, is that slightly more than half of all couples would have to have one more child. That’s a lot, but Canadian women who are now 63 years old ”” and all the generations that preceded them ”” did do it!
The widespread use of various means of contraception dates back to the last third of the 19th century, when coiÌˆtus interruptus and condoms were the primary methods employed. The pill triumphed in the 1960s, but it quickly gave way to sterilization, at least after the age of about 30. This was all very revolutionary in terms of the freedom it offered, particularly to women. However, in spite of the effec- tiveness and convenience of modern methods of contraception, many women still resort to abortion. Despite a decline in this practice, the lifelong number of abortions still averages out to one for every two women.
As previously mentioned, the 1991- 2001 decade was the first in more than a century in which net immigra- tion exceeded natural growth. Canada is one of the countries that receives the most immigrants per capita. In fact, it is near the top of the list in terms of percentage of inhabitants born abroad: 18.4 percent, based on 2001-census data, versus 13 percent for the United States. Over the course of the last three decades of the 20th century, Canada, on average, received 165,000 immi- grants and lost 35,000 emigrants per year, according to Statistics Canada estimates. During this period, our country thus received an average of six immigrants per 100 inhabitants in each decade. Despite significant year- to-year fluctuations, there is no clear trend upward or downward.
However, what has changed com- pared with the post-war period is the origin of immigrants. In the years after World War II, one quarter of immi- grants came from the British Isles and one half from other parts of Europe or the United States. Only one quarter of immigrants were non-Europeans. Since 1970, two thirds of immigrants have come from Africa, Asia or Latin America. The European/non-European ratio has thus been reversed. This is due to two key factors: first, fewer immigrants are coming from Europe because of the improved standard of living there and, second, Canada has amended its laws so as to reduce dis- crimination, allow close relatives of Canadian residents to immigrate and make it more difficult to turn back asy- lum-seekers who do not have refugee status. This legal system has resulted in a situation where a large proportion of immigrants (more than five out of ten in recent years) are admitted because of their family ties or for humanitarian reasons.
Needless to say, this new immi- gration trend has slowly altered the ethnic makeup of the population, which has created some tensions. Nevertheless, but the government authorities in Canada, both provin- cial and federal, have not indicated that they intend to reduce immigra- tion. Quite to the contrary, the offi- cial discourse glorifies Canada’s multi-ethnic character.
Immigrants are settling increas- ingly in Ontario (almost 60 percent recently) and less and less in the Atlantic region and the Prairies. British Columbia now attracts as many immigrants as Quebec (approximately one sixth each). Immigrants also tend to concen- trate in large urban centres, with three quarters settling in the three biggest cities in the country. Interprovincial migration is also significant, with 15 percent of Canadians living in a province other than the one in which they were born. British Colombia and Ontario are the big winners in this regard.
While the decline in fertility has reduced family size, families have undergone another kind of upheaval that is at least as significant: couples have become increasingly frag- ile. Often they are formed without the sanction of a legal marriage, which in 1996 was the case for 40 percent of couples under the age of 30. In Quebec, which is the leader in this respect, 56 percent of children were born of unmarried parents in 1998 (in Canada, the figure was approximately 35 percent). And the trend is growing stronger. Of course, it is possible to live as a family without a legal marriage. The problem is that these consensual unions, as they are called, are more fragile than the others, which are themselves quite short-lived. About 35 percent of marriages end in divorce, after an average of 10 or 11 years.
It wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t children involved. But many are, often young ones, and a large pro- portion of them see their parents sepa- rate. Nicole Marcil-Gratton estimates that such was the case for 25 percent of Canadian children born in 1983-1984, before their tenth birthday. And this per- centage is growing with time. It should be added that in most cases, these break- ups result in single-parent families. The latter now represent approximately 22 percent of families and likely constitute the biggest and most noticeable pocket of poverty in Canada.
The linguistic composition of the Canadian population is probably the demographic char- acteristic that has given rise to the most acute concerns and the most controversial policies. It is clear that the percentage of fran- cophones has already decreased considerably in Canada as a whole and that it is much lower in almost every part of the country. Two provinces, however, have maintained a substantial pro- portion of francophones: New Brunswick, where it is slowly declining, and Quebec, where it has grown over the past 30 years, no doubt with the help of Bill 101, which came into force in 1977. The percentage of francopho- nes in Quebec increased from 80.8 per- cent in 1971 to 83.1 percent in 2001. But this has not stopped many French- speaking nationalists in the province from sowing fear about the strength of French in Quebec. This is not the place to settle this debate.
Canada has only one-half of 1 per- cent of the world’s population and 21/2 percent of the population of developed countries. Obviously these are the countries with which compar- isons should be made.
For many years, our country had a significantly higher fertility rate than that of the United States and Europe, but since 1970, Canada has been very close to the average for the countries of western and northern Europe; since 1980, it has fallen further and further behind the United States, the only rich, large country which, along with Ireland, Iceland and New Zealand, has for almost the past 15 years come close to maintaining the generation replacement rate. It should be pointed out that among the countries of west- ern and northern Europe, i.e. those that most closely resemble us, many have maintained a higher fertility rate than Canada. To see this somewhat surprising reality more clearly, it is preferable to use a measure slightly different from the total fertility rate: what demographers call cohort total fertility, which is simply the average number of children to which the women of each generation have given birth. It does have one drawback, though, which is that it can be reli- ably estimated only for women who have nearly completed their child- bearing years, i.e. women around the age of 35. This measure has been esti- mated by French demographer France Rioux. Her findings for women born in 1963, for certain countries, are pre- sented in table 1, in decreasing order.
Except for Portugal, these countries have established generous financial assistance programs, primarily in the form of family allowances, to help par- ents raise children. Some countries, including Italy and Spain, which do lit- tle in this regard, have seen their cohort total fertility rates fall to unprecedented levels. Canada is in the middle of the pack in this respect and has, so to speak, the cohort total fertility rate it deserves. Canadian women born in 1963 have a cohort total fertility rate of 1.75.
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Quebec women have an average of only 1.6 children, a low rate matched only by German and Italian women and women living in some of the countries of the former Soviet Union.
Still, the Canadian population is growing more quickly (0.8 percent per year) than that of Europe, which is now quasi-stationary and even decreasing in all regions of the conti- nent, except for western Europe. However, the United States and Australia-New Zealand, both of which have population growth rates of 0.9 percent, are doing better than Canada in this regard. The Third World as a whole has a growth rate of only 1.5 percent per year, down from a high of 2.5 percent in 1960-65.
This performance is due especially to a high net immigration. Canada is one of the developed countries that has the most immigrants per capita. In terms of the percentage of the total population that is foreign-born, Canada, with 19 percent, is exceeded only by Israel (37 percent), Switzerland (25 percent), Australia (25 percent) and New Zealand (22 percent). Only 13 per- cent of the United States’ population is foreign-born, while in Europe, it is 8 percent. Two noteworthy exceptions in Canada are greater Toronto, where immigrants make up 44 percent of the population, and Vancouver, where they account for 38 percent. Greater Montreal’s immigrant population is 18 percent, about the same as Canada’s.
Canada also stands out ”” even more so ”” in terms of its answers to the United Nations, which regularly questions each country on its popula- tion policies. In 2000, Canada was one of only five developed countries that said they wanted to increase their immigration. The United States was not one of them. According to the 2004 report, one third of the world’s countries have even taken steps to reduce their immigration (Denmark, Spain, France and New Zealand, for instance).
As for life expectancy at birth, the easiest and most complete way to show a country’s effectiveness in combating death, Canada bends to no one but Japan. Life expectancy is the aver- age number of years newborns can expect to live, assuming they are sub- ject to the mortality rates observed at each age. For Canada, it is 77 years for men and 82 years for women. These numbers are higher than those for Europe and the United States.
Low fertility rate and life expectancy combine to make aging, which we shall define as the percent- age of persons over the age of 65 in the total population, as one of the main challenges facing us in the near future. The developed world is three times as old (15.3 percent) as the less- developed world (5.5 percent). Europe is the oldest continent (15.9 percent); its oldest parts are southern and west- ern Europe (17.5 percent). ”œNew Europe” follows, 15 to 25 years behind. Canada comes in at 13.1 per- cent, the US at 12.3 percent and Australia-New-Zealand at 12.6 per- cent. These differences can be explained by fertility history.
What can we expect of the next half-century? It may seem risky to make long-term forecasts, but some demographic phenomena lend themselves to prognostication. Of course, we are claiming neither accuracy nor certainty. Here are our projections:
Canada’s total population will increase by approximately 20 per- cent by 2050. At least that is what Statistics Canada demographers are forecasting for the medium scenario. This assumes that fertility will remain low and that immigration will be substantial. The United States will probably do better, thanks to its higher fertility rate. By 2050, Ontario will have 40 percent of Canada’s population, double that of Quebec.
The ethnic composition of the population will most likely become increasingly diversified. Between 1981 and 2001, the proportion of persons of non-European stock rose to 13.4 per- cent from 4.7 percent. If the trend con- tinues, this proportion will reach almost 25 percent by 2025. It is diffi- cult to look ahead any further.
As for the future of the two official languages, we can say quite confidently that English will be the language used by a growing proportion of the popula- tion and that French will lose in per- centage terms in the country as a whole, but not ”” or very little ”” in Quebec. This means that Canada is heading for increasingly marked lin- guistic bipolarization.
The demographic phenomenon that will undoubtedly have the greatest impact is the aging of the population. It has already begun, but we have barely seen the first half of it. During the next 50 years, the percentage of young people will probably decrease somewhat, as will that of adults, while the percentage of over-65s will increase to approximately 27 percent from 13 percent, if cohort total fertility remains at 1.75 children. Contrary to a rather widespread belief, the baby boomers do not play a major role in this trend. They will only delay the trend a little until 2010, and then accelerate it. The aging of the population is due primarily to the secular decline in the fertility rate and, to a much lesser degree, to the decrease in mortality at advanced ages.
This transformation in the age composition of the population means that for each adult, the cost of health care will double and that of public pensions will increase even more, if appropriate action is not taken. These costs will rise from 12 percent or 15 percent of GDP to 25 percent or 30 percent. To reduce these undesirable effects, we can do two things: increase the fertility rate and change our habits in order to delay the effects of aging.
The first option is not an easy task, but there is no reason why Canada could not do as well in this regard as a good dozen European countries that are not much richer than we are. Of course, it would entail much more than paying generous family allowances. It would require, for example, flexible hours for work- ing parents, paid or unpaid leaves of short or long duration for parents of young children, and housing assis- tance. However, family allowances are still key in this regard and reflect each country’s interest in children. Most western European countries give between $2,000 and $3,000 annually per child, in addition to highly gener- ous allowances for children of pre- school age. Canada is not nearly as advanced in this area. Not only is financial assistance for parents much lower, but this assistance is given pri- marily to poor families, making it more of an anti-poverty tool than a family allowance per se. In addition, health care should be free for chil- dren, which is not entirely the case for dental care.
But, no matter what we do to boost the birth rate, the aging of the popula- tion is inevitable. A return to a fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman would likely reduce the percentage of over-65s, around the year 2050, to 22.5 per- cent from 27 percent. This is not insignificant, but it is not sufficient either. We must therefore do everything we can to mitigate its undesirable effects, primarily from the point of view of public finances. In other words: post- pone the age of retirement, raise the labour force participation rate; increase employment of persons over 50 years of age by lowering wage scales; reduce unemployment; fund public pension systems as much as possible through capitalization; and finance health care, at least partially, through capitalized insurance. Painful measures, no doubt, but we may not have a choice.
Over the past third of a cen- tury, Canada has been in a new demographic era marked by low fertility, family upheaval and aging of the population. These phenomena have already started to have an impact, but only partially. Aging will con- tinue and its effects will be felt more and more.
In 20 years, we will be living in a different world. The nature of children, so to speak, has already changed: until the mid- 20th century, adults raised almost a surplus of children without demanding much assistance, except for free elementary school. For society, children were almost ”œfree” goods, in the economic sense of the term; today, children are ”œrare” goods that have a price. One thing is for certain: their cost will rise. All of this will require painful adjustments, which are slow in coming. Europe is a few years ahead of us in this regard, while the US seems less affected. It is in Canada’s interest to look at what is happening in Europe. (Article translated from the French)