New Census and National Household Survey Highlight Key Demographic Trends in BC

  • August 12, 2013

By Jock Finlayson

Statistics Canada has started to release data drawn from its 2011 census and a major National Household Survey which the agency undertook at the same time. The results confirm what most people already know: the population is aging, with the front-end of the baby boom generation having reached 65 in 2011; Canada’s society is urbanizing, as more of us are living in large and mid-sized cities; there are more one-person households, reflecting the high incidence of divorce as well as longer life spans; and the workforce and population are becoming more multi-ethnic, as immigration continues to shape the nation’s demographic profile.

All of these national-level trends are certainly evident in British Columbia.

By 2011, the median age of British Columbians was 41.9 years, a bit higher than the national average. It has been climbing steadily. Twenty years ago, the median age was 34.7; back in 1971, the typical BC resident was a youthful 28.

Of the province’s 4.4 million people in 2011, almost 700,000 were aged 65 and over. And the oldsters are easily the fastest growing group: their ranks expanded by 15% between 2006 and 2011. While BC has a vast land mass, a large majority of the people live in a handful of urban centres, mainly clustered in the southwestern corner of the province. Metro Vancouver (population 2.3 million) is home to 52% of all British Columbians, a share that’s expected to keep rising over time. Greater Victoria, with 345,000, is the second biggest concentration of people, although its population growth has been notably sluggish in recent years. Like Metro Vancouver, the census metropolitan areas of Kelowna (2011 population: 180,000) and Abbotsford-Mission (170,000) are growing faster than the province as a whole. In aggregate, the northern two-thirds of BC has just 10% of the population. Given the Liberal government’s avowed focus on energy and natural resource development in the north, one has to wonder where the work force to build and operate these industries will come from.

Statistics Canada defines “census families” as households of two or more related individuals. There were 1.23 million of these in BC as of 2011, up 7% from five years earlier. More than 70% consisted of married couples, with the remainder living common-law or as one-parent families. Of interest, approximately three-fifths of British Columbians aged 15 and over are either married or living with a common-law partner. Not everyone, of course, is part of a census family household. Indeed, half a million British Columbians live alone, equal to 28% of all households. Another 50,000 are part of multi-family households (two or more census families residing together). More than 80,000 BC residents are classified as “other” households – where two or more unrelated individuals share a single dwelling.

As in many other affluent economies, average family size has been decreasing in Canada, largely due to lower fertility rates. In BC, the average number of children per family is now 1.9, down from 2.7 half a century ago. With fewer children, the typical household has also been shrinking in size. In 2011, the average household in BC had 2.5 persons, identical to the national figure. One-person households are becoming more common, rising from 23.5% of all BC households in 1981 to 28.3% today. Fifty years ago, only 13% of British Columbians lived in single-person households.

A final demographic development that warrants mention is immigration and its role in creating a more diverse population. Globally, Canada ranks near the top in the number of immigrants admitted measured relative to the size of the existing population. In an average year, Canada welcomes 240,000 – 260,000 permanent newcomers. On top of this are sizable inflows of foreign temporary workers and students. According to the 2011 census, foreign-born residents comprise 26% of British Columbia’s population; in the lower mainland, the proportion is much higher – 41%. By 2020, half of all Greater Vancouver residents are likely to have been born outside of Canada. As immigration continues to drive demographic growth, the province’s population is destined to become ever more diverse. For employers, this underscores the need to plan and prepare for the increasingly heterogeneous workforce that will be staffing and operating our businesses and public institutions in the years ahead.