Life expectancy in Canada nears 81

Newborn Canadians may live to celebrate nearly 81 birthdays on average, a Statistics Canada report on life expectancy suggests.

Newborn Canadians may live to celebrate nearly 81 birthdays on average, a Statistics Canada report on life expectancy suggests.

Tuesday's report on births and deaths showed life expectancy at birth reached 80.7 years for the three-year-period between 2005 and 2007, up 0.2 years from an average of 80.5 between 2004 and 2006.

In 1995 to 1997, life expectancy at birth was 78.4.

"People are living longer, longer than ever," said Shiang Ying Dai, senior analyst with Statistics Canada's health statistics division in Ottawa.

Canadians over 65 in particular can expect to live longer.

"They can plan their future knowing they can live longer," such as considering their retirement and other needs, said Dai, one of the authors of the report.

Older people are also healthier in general than in the past, said demographer Alain Bélanger, a professor at the National Institute of Scientific Research in Montreal.

"Most of the gains in the past were due to gains against infectious disease," Bélanger said. "But now most of the gains are due to success against disease that are affecting older people such as heart disease and cancer."

Aging implications

Gains in life expectancy in seniors over the past decade accounted for about 70 per cent of the increase in life expectancy at birth, Statistics Canada said.

The aging trend also has implications for Canadian society, Dai said.

"You want to plan what are the services you need for older people now more than ever. You have to go into different types of housing, socio-economic areas and also health services."

On average, a 65-year-old man could expect to live another 18.1 years in 2005 to 2007, an increase of two years from the previous decade. A 65-year-old woman could expect to live an additional 21.3 years, up by 1.3 years.

"It's hard to gain years of life," said Dianne Groll, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. "It's a positive trend."

From 2005 to 2007, people in British Columbia showed the longest life expectancy at birth in Canada at 81.2, followed by Ontario at 81 years.

The lowest life expectancy at birth was in the three territories combined, at 75.8 years. The territories also had the youngest population, Dai noted. Newfoundland and Labrador had the second-lowest life expectancy for both sexes, at 78.3 years.

Narrower gender gap

Dai could not offer any explanations for the provincial differences.

The report's authors also found a narrowing gender gap in life expectancy.

Male life expectancy at birth rose by 2.9 years to 78.3 in 2005 to 2007, while among women it increased by 1.8 years to 83.0. The gap between the sexes has been closing for several years, with men's life expectancy improving faster than women's, Dai said.

Older, healthier seniors continue to contribute to society, said Colin Milner, who founded the Vancouver-based International Council on Active Aging. One-third of seniors do volunteer work, he noted.

When 83-year-old Marianne Gerling of Toronto was born, the life expectancy in Canada was about 55  years.

"My grandmother at 60 was sitting in a rocking chair teaching me to knit and that was all she did," Gerling said.

In contrast, Gerling rode a bicycle when she was 65. She still keeps active by socializing and doing balance and posture exercises once a week at a seniors club, lifting light weights at home and swimming. 

Canada's growing and aging population was also reflected in the number of deaths. In 2007, 235,217 people died in Canada, up 7,138, or 3.1 per cent, from 2006.

The infant mortality rate rose from five infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2006 to 5.1 in 2007.

Generally, the infant mortality rate has been declining since 1982, when the rate was at 9.1 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. The long-term decline in infant mortality is in line with the general up and down trends, Groll said.