Canada’s Census 2016. Aging at the Speed of Light?

Adapting your life within population pyramids

You must have been living on an exoplanet over the last twenty years, not to know that the generational composition of age demographics in Canada was in a steady progression over time and – with wild card events factored in, all things being relatively equal, the so-called bulge of Boomers would eventually turn that magic marker of 65 by now. We have pegged every study, survey, census and omen on the fact that we would see ourselves adapting to the shifts in newly shaped population pyramids.

It may now seem rather passé to refer to David Foot’s 1996, Boom, Bust & Echo, because we’ve received so much more data and analysis piled on top of that opus over the years. Yet somehow, some of us appear to be suddenly in awe by the news that Canada’s Census 2016 has revealed such a surprising statistic, blasted lately in every headline and re-tweet: “More people in Canada over the age 65 than children under age 15.” And the so what is?

Of course, this aging demographic issue is a global story, but the statistics in themselves are no longer news. It is more about what we make of the social reality, now that we have met our days of future past. What is amusing to me is the way commentary flows from this statistical revelation. For instance, the Globe & Mail piece by Tavia Grant & Jeremy Agius – “The greying of Canada’s population is accelerating”, and the Statscan statement that our population is “rapidly aging”.

You may recall times when you were younger when you heard someone older say; “the older I get the more time seems to go by so fast.” Then you wake up one day and you hear the cover song Age of Aquarius by the 5th Dimension in a super market aisle and it makes you wonder the same thing – it’s the old tempus fugit for everyone.










Generations adapt together in this demographic procession  

Get over it. We are not really accelerating and aging is not rapid. The demographic pyramid is shifting shape one year at a time, a natural flow of our life course. Maybe it is a case of how everything we know – everything we seem to do, is now compared to the rate of speed in changes to technology development – it’s our in a hurry “internet of everything” worldview. Oh – how the mind travels in a time machine journey – and suddenly we are aging at the speed of light.

Arguably what should be accelerating is our level of decision making around the bigger discussion points in this Canadian aging narrative, like what fundamental choices do we make around how all generations are going to adapt together in this demographic procession? How do social structures, policies and points of reference need to change to meet our future needs. Rapidly perceived or not, it is time now to respond.

For example, as long as we continue to describe and measure population activity by old frameworks like “working age population as those between 15 and 64”, then we ignore the fact that people are, by need and/or desire, contributing to the economy well beyond 64. We have to realize that what we call “work” is now being expressed differently, by everyone at every age and thus the “working age” notch on the population pyramid may in reality be 74 over the next decade or so. That is, if we need a notch at all.

So cut through the stats and ask – “so what” if there are more people now over 65 than age 14 and under. At this point based on the 2016 census, the over 65 is 5.9 million and the 14 and under is 5.8 million. Aren’t we splitting hairs here at a mere100,000? At the time of Boom, Bust & Echo (last updated in 2001), we didn’t really discuss how the population size of a Generation Z born after 2001, or going forward, a Generation Alpha would change the morphing shape of our age pyramid.

By the way, if you are coming back from that exoplanet, looking for some foresight on Canada’s future “demographic procession” trends, try playing with David Foot’s pyramid shapes on his Footwork website. As you move his pyramid slider along, the shape begins to resemble one of those new futuristic looking buildings like the Walkie-Talkie in London.


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