Despite a badly struggling economy in the wake of slumping oil and gas revenue, Alberta's population growth rate will continue to lead the country for many years to come, according to an analysis done by ATB Financial.

Statistics Canada says Alberta is on track to grow from 4.2 million residents to between 5.6 million and 6.8 million by 2038, notes the ATB report, People Power: Population trends in Alberta.

"This translates into annual average growth of between 1.6 and 2.8 per cent — the highest among the provinces under all scenarios," the report by senior analyst Rob Roach says.

Such strong population growth has always been the norm in Alberta despite its boom and bust economic history.

And this time around, the lack of a strong jobs-Mecca outside of Alberta could persuade people to stay put, Roach told the CBC Calgary Eyeopener.

"It's not obvious where you're going to go," he said. "We're not expecting a mass exodus out of the province."

Last year, as the price of oil plummeted and thousands of energy sector jobs were cut, Alberta's population was the strongest among the provinces at 1.8 per cent.

Even by October, when it had become clear the provincial economy was in serious trouble, the population was still increasing, Roach said. 

"With that said, growth fell by a full percentage point between 2014 and 2015, highlighting the importance of economic performance to Alberta's population growth," Roach says in his report.

3 pillars of growth 

Three things fuel Alberta's population growth — interprovincial migration, international migration and the birth rate, the report says.

Over the past 10 years, new arrivals from outside Canada accounted for 37 per cent of Alberta's population growth.

"Alberta is a major magnet for international migration," Roach said.

Thirty-five per cent of Alberta's population increase in the past decade was natural — the ratio of births to deaths.

Last year, Alberta's rate of natural increase was more than double the national average at 800 per 100,000 people.

That's due in part to the fact that Alberta has a relatively young population with many couples starting families, Roach said.

Alberta's third pillar of growth, people moving in from other provinces, represented 28 per cent of the growth.

"When it comes to the movement of Canadians within Canada, Alberta stands out as the province with by far the highest average annual rate of net interprovincial migration over the last 10 years  — 644 per 100,000 compared to a loss of 72 per 100,000 for the rest of the country," the reports says.

Interprovincial growth could dry up

However, the number of people coming to Alberta from other parts of Canada was down in 2015 and the economic downturn will likely cause it to dip further this year, Roach said.

"It might even dip into negative numbers," he said.

"We're going to see the for-sale signs on the lawns, and it's going to look bad."

Nonetheless, the underlying factors all add up to continued population momentum for Alberta, Roach said.

"People often do move here for the jobs, but they stay for the quality of life."