In a census marked by a surge in Canada’s population of seniors, Edmontonians were notable for their youth.
Edmonton is one of Canada’s youngest big cities, clocking in three years younger than the national average as the country’s overall population goes grey, according to 2016 census data released by Statistics Canada on Wednesday.
The average Edmontonian was just 37.7 years of age in 2016, the third-youngest of Canada’s big cities behind Brampton and Calgary. The typical Albertan was a touch older at 37.8, while Canada recorded an average age of 41. At 41.6, Vancouver was Canada’s oldest big city.
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Economists say immigration, migration within Canada and high fertility rates are keeping Alberta youthful.
“It really is something that differentiates Alberta from other provinces and much of the developed world — how young our population is,” said Mark Parsons, assistant deputy minister with the Alberta Treasury Board.
More millennials, kids, working-age people
With baby boomers reaching retirement age, Canada saw its largest increase in the proportion of seniors since Confederation. That has some economists worried about how the country will pay for higher health-care costs.
Alberta and its Prairie neighbours bucked the trend. The province continues to have one of the youngest populations in Canada and among the smallest proportions of elderly people. Alberta had more children than seniors, and more millennials than baby boomers.
Edmonton also has a larger proportion of kids, millennials, and working-age people than the national average.
Just over 70 per cent of the city’s population, around 655,000 people, are of working age, compared to 66.5 per cent nationally.
Edmonton had 164,520 children aged 0-14, good for 17.6 per cent of the population, while just 16.6 per cent of Canadians overall were children.
And the city had around 289,000 millennials, outnumbering seniors. Thirty-one per cent of Edmontonians were in the 15-34 range in 2016, compared to just 12 per cent in the 65 and over category, or 111,905 people.
Smaller Alberta cities were even younger.
The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo had an average age of 33.1, the youngest of Alberta’s major municipalities. The average Airdrie resident was 33.2 in 2016, while oil-and-gas hub Grande Prairie rounded out the youngest three with an average age of just 33.5.
While the economic downturn has led to more migration out of Alberta and an ebb in the flow of young workers to the province, immigration is picking up the slack.
“We’re experiencing modest outflows of interprovincial migrants, but that’s more than offset by very strong inflows of international migrants,” Parsons said. “We’re starting to see some modest outflows, but it has not come anywhere close to offsetting the numbers we’ve gained in recent years.”
Higher fertility rates and a larger than average young aboriginal population also played a role, said Rob Roach with ATB Financial.
“You put all that together, and we end up having a larger proportion under 18 and a smaller proportion over 65, with the big one being that middle group,” he said.
Stark contrast to Atlantic Canada
Alberta was a stark contrast to the four Atlantic provinces.
Nova Scotia had Canada’s largest proportion of seniors at 19.9 per cent. With the exception of East Hants, a community of 22,000, Nova Scotia had no municipalities with more children than seniors. In Alberta, seniors outnumbered children in fewer than 15 per cent of municipalities.
While Alberta’s population is aging slower than the rest of Canada, it’s still aging.
Between 2001 and 2016, the share of Alberta’s population 65 and over grew from 10.4 to 12.3 per cent. According to a report from ATB, that’s the smallest provincial proportion of seniors in Canada.
Alberta might have time to prepare for more seniors, but Roach said it will someday face the same trends.
“Even though we’re younger in Alberta, we still have to adjust,” he said.