Fuelled by an influx of baby boomers, Canadians approaching retirementare now the fastest-growing demographic in the country, new census data suggests.

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According to the 2006 census, the number of Canadians aged 65 and over increased 11.5 per cent in the previous five years. ((Canadian Press/Ryan Remiorz))

The shift points to a trend that could have important implications for the labour market, Statistics Canada said Tuesday.

The number of Canadians aged 55 to 64— those most likely to be thinking about retirement — jumped by 28 per cent in the past five years to 3.7 million.

The sharp increase can be attributed to Canada's aging baby boomers, who account for close to one-third of the country's 32 million people.

Analysts say the shift will have great implications for the labour market, as employers, policy makers and regional planners struggle to deal with the changing workforce.

"Baby boomers have hit the tail end of the working-age population," said Rosemary Bender, the director general of social and demographic statistics at Statistics Canada.

"They're in the pre-retirement age so there's an awful lot of interest in terms of … the need for knowledge transfer or potential skills shortages."

Statistics Canada says the numbers of retirement-aged Canadians in the workforce will continue to increase— in less than 10 years, one in five people in the workforce will be aged 55 to 64.

"In about 10 years, Canada may have more people at the age where they can leave the labour force than people at the age where they can begin working," said Statistics Canada.

Earlier this year, Bank of Canada governor David Dodge urged employers to make adjustments to allow older people to continue working, including more flexible hours and redesigned pension plans.

Influential boomers

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Rosemary Bender, of Statistics Canada, said low fertility and increasing life expectancy have affected Canada's demographic makeup. ((CBC))

There are also more senior citizens than ever— more than 4.3 million. That's the first time in the country's history there are more than four million people aged 65 or older.

To put the numbers in perspective, one out of every seven Canadians was a senior when the census was taken in 2006. Fifty years ago, that proportion was about one in 14.

Along with the labour market, the aging boomer population will have an impact on the country'shealth-care system, retirement homes and pension plans, said Statistics Canada.

"Society has always adjusted itself" to the boomers, said Bill Gleberzon of CARP, Canada's Association for the 50 Plus.

"When they were born, (society) went out and built more schools, more stadiums, they did all kinds of things to accommodate the fact that there was this large group of young people," said Gleberzon.

More elderly,fewer children

While the population of seniors is up by 11 per cent, the number of children is down by 2.5 per cent.

Proportion65 years and over in G8 countries
Japan 20.8%
Italy 19.7%
Germany 19.3%
France 16.2%
U.K. 16.0%
Canada 13.7%
Russia 13.7%
U.S. 12.4%
Source: Statistics Canada

The proportion of children aged 14 and under has decreased to the lowest it has been at 17.7 per cent of the population.

"If we look at recent projections, in about 10 years, the lines will cross and there will be an equal number of seniors and children," Bender said.

Eventhose withinthe population of seniorsare getting older. Canadians aged over 80 were the second-fastest growing group in the most recent census period— increasing by more than 25 per cent to 1.2 million.

Canada has its largest proportion yet of what Statistics Canada calls the "very elderly," a fact helped by a jump in the number of people aged 100 or more, a fact Bender called surprising.

"There are over 4,600 centenarians in Canada. This is … more than we observed five years ago."

Statistics Canada says there's a simple reason for the demographics— Canadians are living longer and having fewer babies.

Other highlights from the census include:

  • Saskatchewan has the highest proportion of seniors (15.4 per cent) among the provinces; its neighbour to the west, Alberta, has the lowest (10.7 per cent). Only about one in 20 people living in the territories is a senior citizen.
  • The national male-female ratio is 95.9 men for every 100 women. Alberta is the only province with more men than women.
  • Canada is still one of the youngest countries in the G8; only the United States has a lower proportion of elderly people.
  • Quebec now has more thanone million people aged 65 and older. They made up 14.3 per centof the province's population, or one out of seven Quebecers, in 2006.
  • Nearly two out of three persons aged 80 years and over were women, as women have a higher life expectancy than men.
  • Because of the Prairie provinces' higher fertility rates, the region has the highest proportion of children under age 15. Nearly one out of five residents of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta was under the age of 15 at the time of the last census.
With files from the Canadian Press