Of all of Canada's major regions, the one formed by the four Atlantic provinces was the oldest. According to the 2006 Census, the region had proportionally more people aged 65 and over (14.7%) and fewer people under 15 years (16.1%) than the rest of the country.
This is in sharp contrast to the situation some 50 years ago, when the Atlantic provinces were among the youngest provinces in Canada. In 1956, 36.5% of the population was under 15 years, a higher proportion than in any other region. In addition, seniors made up only 7.8% of the population, less than in Ontario, the Prairies and British Columbia.
At that time, women in the Atlantic provinces were having more children on average than women in almost every other province. For example, the average number of children per woman was 4.6 in Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, and the national average was 3.9 children per woman. The Atlantic provinces currently have one of the lowest fertility rates in Canada.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the number of people under 15 years continued to decline at a rapid pace, slipping from 88,760 in 2001 to 78,235 in 2006. Children account for a mere 15.5% of the population of Newfoundland and Labrador, the lowest proportion in the country. In 1956, however, more than four out of 10 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were under age 15.
The proportion of seniors (13.9%) remains lower than in the other Atlantic provinces, but with its large numbers of baby-boomers, the lowest fertility in Canada and recurring losses of young adults to other provinces (visible on the age pyramid), Newfoundland and Labrador is likely to become the oldest province in the country within a few years.
Figure 8 Age pyramid of Newfoundland and Labrador population in 2001 and 2006
The 20,165 seniors enumerated in Prince Edward Island in the 2006 Census made up nearly 15% of the population of Canada's smallest province. That number was almost double what it was 50 years earlier, when there were 10,300 people aged 65 and over.
The number of children aged less than 15 years, though declining, was comparatively a larger percentage of the population compared with any of the other provinces located east of Ontario. In 2006, 17.6% of Prince Edward Island's residents were still under 15 years, a higher percentage than in the other Atlantic provinces, Quebec or British Columbia. The reason for this relatively higher proportion of children is that in contrast to these other provinces, Prince Edward Island's fertility rate over the past 15 years has rarely fallen below the national average.
Figure 9 Age pyramid of Prince Edward Island population in 2001 and 2006
With 15.1% of its residents aged 65 or over in 2006, Nova Scotia was the oldest province in Eastern Canada and the second-oldest in the country behind Saskatchewan (15.4%). Approximately 138,195 Nova Scotians were at or above age 65 in 2006, compared with 58,900 in 1956. This number has grown steadily over the last 50 years, as it has in most other provinces.
Nova Scotia also has few children in its population. In 2006, only 16.0% of its residents were under 15 years, the second-lowest proportion in the country after Newfoundland and Labrador. That situation is largely attributable to the fact that the average number of children per woman has been below the national average for over 20 years in Nova Scotia. The lower percentage of women of child-bearing age, due to migration to other provinces, also tends to keep the number of births down.
Figure 10 Age pyramid of Nova Scotia population in 2001 and 2006
In the period since 2001, the number of elderly people in New Brunswick topped 100,000 for the first time in its history. The 2006 Census counted 107,655 residents aged 65 and over in 2006. Seniors made up 14.7% of the province's population, one percentage point higher than the proportion for Canada as a whole. This group, which was largely born before the Second World War, is reflective of a period when New Brunswick had one of the highest fertility rates in Canada ; in other words, the number of births in the province was very large.
High fertility is no longer the case today, however, as the average number of children per woman in New Brunswick is below the national average, which is also the situation in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. As a consequence of this drop in fertility, the children aged less than 15 years decreased from 222,000 at the end of the baby-boom (1966) to 118,250 in 2006. This 47% decrease was second only to the 61% decrease in Newfoundland and Labrador experienced over the same forty year period. In contrast, since 1966, the number of children in Canada as a whole fell by just 15%.
Figure 11 Age pyramid of New Brunswick population in 2001 and 2006