The greying of Calgary: 2019 census shows the city is becoming 'more like Winnipeg'

Calgary's population continues to grow, according to the results of the 2019 census, but the city is aging quickly as the number of births appears to have declined — rapidly — while the number of senior citizens has skyrocketed.

Senior citizens were the fastest-growing age group, by far, while the number of babies and toddlers declines

Calgary (seen at left) has historically had a younger population than most other cities but the 2019 census shows it has rapidly aged and the mayor thinks, a decade from now, the demographics will look more like Winnipeg's (seen at right). (Evelyne Asselin/CBC, Austin Grabish/CBC)

Calgary's population continues to grow, according to the results of the 2019 census, but the city is aging quickly as the number of births appears to have declined — rapidly — while the number of senior citizens has skyrocketed.

The population count now stands at 1,285,711. That's an increase of 1.4 per cent over 2018.

All told, the city added 18,367 people compared to the year before, with 8,807 new residents due to natural increase (more births than deaths) and 9,560 due to net in-migration (more people moving here than moving away.)

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the growth rate is slower than what the city saw earlier this decade, when oil prices were over $100 a barrel but, overall, it's "actually pretty standard for growth in Calgary in non-boom times."

It's the age demographics that the mayor says are more remarkable — and, likely, a sign of things to come.

"This is probably one of the most interesting things that we're seeing here and has potentially really big ramifications," Nenshi said.

"The population is aging."

Fewer toddlers, more seniors

The civic census only asks residents for age and gender information every second or third year. The last time it did so was in 2016.

And the difference from 2019, the mayor said, is stunning —  especially when it comes to the number of babies and toddlers, which was by far the fastest-shrinking age group.

Compared to three years ago, there were 8,037 fewer kids aged four and under in the latest census. That's a decline of 9.4 per cent.

The decline was so sharp, the mayor said he wants to double-check the data against other measures, such as the number of births in Calgary maternity wards.

"But if this trend is real — and if it continues — there are actually some very troubling consequences,"  Nenshi said.

The issue is compounded by the rapid growth in Calgarians at the other end of the age spectrum.

Senior citizens were by far the fastest-growing age group. The number of 65-to-74 year-olds, in particular, increased by 18,079 over the past three years. That's an increase of 23.1 per cent.

Over the past decade, meanwhile, their ranks have swelled by 76 per cent, followed closely by the 55-to-64 demographic, whose population grew by 52.6 per cent.

At the same time, the number of Calgarians aged 20 to 24 declined by 5.5 per cent, making it the only age group to have shrunk over the past decade.

"What you can see here is that our population pyramid is starting to shift more to that vase shape," Nenshi said.

"This has huge implications on every single thing that we do whether it's health care, education, community services and so on."

'More like Winnipeg' 

The issue of an aging population is a common one in cities around the developed world, but Calgary has historically been a bit of an outlier in how relatively young it has remained.

"What has really protected Calgary for so many years is we get all that net migration — immigration from the rest of Canada and from around the world — which has made our financial situation much, much, much easier to handle than in cities that are either losing population or cities that are aging without the commensurate increase of young people," Nenshi said.

Now, though, that appears to be starting to change.

Asked what he thinks Calgary will look like decade from now, Nenshi replied: "More like Winnipeg."

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi speaks to reporters about the 2019 civic census. (Mike Symington/CBC)

"The challenge that you get when you have more and more people who are not in the workforce and you're having trouble bringing in people who are in the workforce is that things get more expensive," the mayor said.

"So, taxes go up, your revenue and your costs get out of whack. And so it's really important for us to continue to attract people in that working cohort, child-bearing cohort, as well as more children to the community to kind of fight against those demographic trends."

The animated image below depicts interpolated census data, by broad age group, from 1999 to 2019. You can see how the 55+ age group (in purple), once the smallest age group, catches up with the rest:

(Can't see the animation? Click here for a version that should work on your device.)

"It's clear that, if we want to retain a young, vibrant population — a population that can continue to support older people — we have a lot we've got to do," Nenshi added.

"And it really is about attracting young, working-age people to the city."

The city's census results are usually released in July but Nenshi said this year's results were delayed because of a slower census-taking process in the spring.

"The weather was bad in the spring, so it took a little longer to get the numbers in and we didn't want to release the numbers in the middle of August," Nenshi said.

The fastest growing community in 2019 was Mahogany with a population increase of 1,948, followed by Legacy, which grew by 1,116 residents, Nolan Hill at 1,051, Cornerstone with 1,019, and Redstone with 1,002.