The second wave of data from the 2016 Census covered the age-sex distribution of Canada’s population, dwelling types and the makeup of those living in group housing

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%age of seniors has risen continually during the last 50 years while the%age of children has gradually declined. In 2016, 16.6% of the population was under the age of 15, up slightly from 16.4% in 2011 but down from a high of 34% in 1961, the peak of the baby boom. At the other extreme, 16.9% of the population was age 65 or older in 2016, up from 14.4% in 2011 and more than twice the%age in 1961 (7.6%), 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% 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% of Canadians were aged 65 or over, that age group represented 14.5% of the U.S. population. However, other G7 countries were older, with those aged 65 or over ranging from 17.3% in the United Kingdom to 25.1% in Japan.

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

Although Canada’s population grew by five per cent between 2011 and 2016, growth varied by age group, as shown in the accompanying Percent Population Change 2011-2016, Canada chart.

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% of the population. In contrast, in rural areas of Canada outside the North that recorded little growth, or actually declined, more than 20% of the population were 65 or over.

Regionally, the Atlantic Provinces were Canada’s oldest, with close to 20% of their population 65 or older. At the other extreme, the provinces with the lowest percentage of senior citizens included Alberta (12.3% aged 65+), Saskatchewan (15.5%) and Manitoba (15.6%). 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%, 7.7% and 11.9% 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% 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% to 15% of the population. By contrast, the oldest CMAs were Trois-Rivières, Peterborough, St. Catherines-Niagara, Kelowna and Victoria, all with over 21% aged 65 and older.

Among medium-sized urban areas, two stand out for their senior populations: Parksville (BC) with 44% who are 65 or older and Elliot Lake (ON) with 38%. Other areas with more than 30% of their populations 65 and older were Wasaga Beach (33.4%) and Cobourg (31.4%), 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 percentage 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%, compared to 13% for the city; in Montreal, the difference was 23% versus nine per cent, and in Vancouver, 25% versus 19%.

Living arrangements of seniors

The 2016 Census reported nearly six million seniors over 65. And nearly 93% 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 three per cent of those in their seventies lived in a heath-related facility. At ages 80 to 84, nine per cent of males and 14% of females were in a health-related facility, while for ages 85 and over the numbers increased to 23% for males and 36% 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% of all households, 34% were two-person households, 15% were three-person households, 14% were four-person households and eight per cent 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%) were single-family dwellings, 10% were apartments of five or more stories and the remaining 36% 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%) compared to three per cent growth for single-family dwellings and eight per cent 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.

This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Direct Marketing.


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Doug Norris

Doug Norris

One of Canada’s leading experts on the Census, Doug Norris, Ph.D., is a senior vice president and chief demographer at Environics Analytics. He joined EA in 2006 after nearly 30 years with Statistics Canada, where he served as director general of social and demographic statistics.

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