As a result of the increase in the number of seniors since 2001, their proportion relative to the total population reached a record 13.7% in 2006. That proportion, the best indicator of the aging of Canada's population, has been rising steadily since 1966, when it was 7.7%.
The proportion of the under-15 population fell to 17.7%, its lowest level ever. By comparison, during the height of the baby-boom period, one person in three (34.0%) was under age 15 in 1961.
Figure 2 Proportion of persons aged 65 years and over in the Canadian population, 1956 to 2006
According to the most recent population projections, the proportion of seniors in the Canadian population could nearly double in the next 25 years, while the proportion of children is expected to continue falling. If these demographic changes occur, they will have a major impact on the labour force, on public pension and health insurance plans and, in general, on the Canadian economy and society.
The progressive aging of the population is largely attributable to two factors. First, the fertility rate, which has averaged 1.6 children per woman over the last 30 years, is below the replacement level. Second, the life expectancy of Canadians increased appreciably during the 20th century and now stands at 82.5 years for women and 77.7 years for men. As a result of that increase, an increasing number of Canadians are reaching the age of 65, and once this age is attained, they also live longer. In 2004, the age where we observed the largest number of deaths was 84 years for women and 82 years for men.
While immigration has a significant effect on the growth and diversity of Canada's population and contributes towards meeting many of the country's emerging labour requirements, its impact on population aging is minor, since immigrants arrive when they are about 30 on average and then age along with the rest of the population. An increase in immigration since 2001 gave Canada a higher rate of population growth than in the previous intercensal period, but it did not slow the aging of Canada's population (see Portrait of the Canadian Population in 2006: National portrait: Population growth is up).
Age pyramid of the population of Canada, 1956 to 2006