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Finlayson: By 2021, half of all Greater Vancouverites likely foreign-born (Troy Media)

Statistics Canada has just started to release data drawn from its 2011 census and a major National Household Survey which the agency undertook at the same time. The results confirm what most people already know:

  • The population is aging, with the front-end of the baby boom generation having reached 65 in 2011;
  • Canadian society is urbanizing, as more of us are living in large and mid-sized cities;
  • There are more one-person households, reflecting high divorce rates as well as longer life spans, and;
  • The workforce and population are becoming increasingly multi-ethnic, as immigration continues to shape the nation’s demographic profile.

All of these national-level trends are evident in British Columbia.

By 2011, the median age of British Columbians was 41.9 years, a bit higher than the national average. The median age has been climbing steadily for four decades. Twenty years ago, it was 34.7; back in 1971, the typical B.C. resident was a youthful 28.

Of the province’s 4.4 million people in 2011, almost 700,000 were aged 65 and over. And these oldsters are by far the fastest growing age group: their ranks expanded by 15 per cent between 2006 and 2011.

While B.C. has both a vast land mass and an economy still dependent on natural resources, a large majority of provincial residents live in a handful of urban centres, mainly clustered in the southwestern corner of the province. Metro Vancouver (population 2.3 million) is home to 52 per cent of all British Columbians, a share that’s expected to keep edging higher over time. Greater Victoria, with 345,000, has the second biggest concentration of people, although the Capital Region has experienced rather tepid population growth since 2006. Like Metro Vancouver, the census metropolitan areas of Kelowna (2011 population: 180,000) and Abbotsford-Mission (170,000) are growing faster than the province as a whole. In aggregate, the northern two-thirds of B.C. has just 10 per cent of the population.

Statistics Canada defines “census families” as households of two or more related individuals. There were 1.23 million of these in B.C. in 2011, up 7 per cent from five years earlier. More than 70 per cent of them were married couples, with the remainder living common-law or as one-parent families. Of interest, approximately three-fifths of all British Columbians aged 15 and over are either married or living with a common-law partner. So the institution of marriage remains intact.

Not everyone, of course, is part of a census family household. Indeed, half a million British Columbians live alone, which represents 28 per cent of all households. Another 50,000 are part of multi-family households (two or more census families in the same dwelling). More than 80,000 B.C. residents are classified as “other” households – where two or more unrelated individuals share a single dwelling.

As in so many other advanced economies, average family size has been decreasing in Canada, owing mainly to lower fertility rates. Here in B.C., the average number of children per family is now 1.9, down from 2.7 half a century ago. With fewer children, the typical household has also been shrinking in size. In 2011, the average B.C. household had 2.5 persons, identical to the national figure.

An interesting social trend that’s garnering lots of attention from academic researchers and marketing experts is that one-person households are becoming more common, rising from 23.5 per cent of B.C. households in 1981 to 28.3 per cent today. Fifty years ago, only 13 per cent of British Columbians lived in single-person households.

A final demographic development that warrants mention is immigration and its role in re-shaping the population. Globally, Canada ranks near the top in the number of immigrants admitted, measured relative to the size of the existing population. In an average year, Canada welcomes 240,000 – 260,000 permanent newcomers. On top of this are sizable inflows of foreign temporary workers and students.

According to the 2011 census, foreign-born residents comprise 26 per cent of British Columbia’s population; in the lower mainland, the proportion is much higher – 41 per cent. By the time of the 2021 census, half of all Greater Vancouver residents likely will have been born outside of Canada.

As immigration continues to drive demographic growth, the province’s population is destined to become ever more diverse. For employers, this underscores the need to plan and prepare for the increasingly heterogeneous workforce that will be staffing and operating B.C.’s businesses and public institutions in the years ahead.

Jock Finlayson is Executive Vice President of the Business Council of British Columbia.

As published in Troy Media