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2006 Census: Portrait of the Canadian Population in 2006, by Age and Sex: Subprovincial population dynamics

Urban and rural Canada: the difference is young adults

The initial results of the 2006 Census show that urbanization is continuing in Canada. More than four out of five Canadian were living in urban areas, and those areas grew more rapidly between 2001 and 2006 than rural areas (see Portrait of the Canadian Population in 2006: Subprovincial population dynamics: Canada's population becoming more urban). Canada's urban areas also have a very different age structure from its rural areas.

In this report, the terms 'metropolitan' and 'urban' are used interchangeably to refer to regions formed by census metropolitan areas (CMAs) and mid-size urban centres (census agglomerations–CAs). The terms 'non-metropolitan' and 'rural' both refer to other areas, that is, areas that are not part of a CMA or a CA.

In all metropolitan areas combined, more than one person in three (35.7%) was between 20 and 44 years of age in 2006, a much higher proportion than in rural areas, where young adults made up only 27.7% of the population. The difference is primarily due to internal migration of young adults, who often leave rural areas in their late teens and early twenties to pursue their education or to find a job in urban areas.

Figure 21 Age pyramid of the Canadian population living in metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas in 2006

The differences between urban and rural areas is further exacerbated by the fact that most international immigrants, whose average age when they arrive in Canada is about 30, tend to settle in the largest urban centres, further adding to the young adult populations living in these places. The young adult population in the three most populous CMAs–Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver–was particularly important for that reason, contributing to their strong economies.

Group of workers discussing around a table.

This significant difference between urban and rural populations has many social and economic implications. Since participation rates are highest for people between the ages of 20 and 44, urban areas have a larger, much younger labour force than rural areas. More than one person out of five in the labour force of rural areas is aged between 55 and 64 years, compared with 16.4% in the labour force of urban areas. This small, older workforce in rural areas presents many challenges, including recruitment of skilled workers and workforce turnover.

Table 5 Percentage of persons aged less than 15 years and persons aged 65 years and over in metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas, 2001 and 2006

Rural areas also have a higher proportion of people aged 65 and over, and that proportion is growing faster than in urban areas. Between 2001 and 2006, the proportion of seniors increased by 1.1 percentage points to 15.5% in rural areas, compared with 0.7 percentage point to 13.3% in metropolitan areas.

With fewer young working-age adults, more seniors and more rapid population aging, rural areas may encounter some challenges in meeting the needs of an older population, for example, in the area of health and home-care services. These challenges may increase in the near future, when the first baby-boomers turn 65 years.

The maps provide a more detailed geographic picture of the differences between urban and rural areas in Canada. Of particular note is the fact that in 2006, the St. John's, Halifax, Moncton and Fredericton, Québec, Montréal, Ottawa - Gatineau, Toronto, Winnipeg, the Calgary-Red Deer-Edmonton corridor and Vancouver metropolitan areas generally had the lowest concentrations of elderly people in Canada and high concentrations of people under 15 years.

The maps also show that rural areas in Northern Canada generally had much younger populations than other rural areas and many urban areas. This situation is largely due to the presence of Aboriginal communities, which have higher fertility, and, in the case of northern Alberta, employment opportunities linked to the oil boom which attracts younger workers and their families.

Percentage of population aged 14 years and under by 2006 Census Division (CD) and percentage of population aged 65 years and over by 2006 Census Division (CD)

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