Ontario: Aging slowly

Globe and Mail Update
Tuesday, July 16 – Online Edition, Posted at 3:28 PM EST

Canada's most populous province is also its slowest aging.

The median age of Ontario's population increased 3.6 years (from 33.6 years to 37.2) during the past decade, the lowest rate of gain among provinces and territories.

Median age is defined as the point where exactly one half of the population is older, and the other half is younger,

Ontario's overall population remains slightly younger than the national average, according to Statistics Canada's 2001 Census.

In 2001, young people aged 19 and under accounted for 26 per cent of Ontario's population while individuals aged 20 to 64 made up 61 per cent and seniors aged 65 and over made up 13 per cent.

The province saw substantial increases among the elderly. The population in the age group 70 to 79 rose 33 per cent to 701,085, while the number of people aged 80 and over increased 39 per cent to 340,205.

This oldest age group is expected to gain another 49 per cent during the next 10 years.

"There's going to be pressure to come on health care costs when the baby boomers get to be 75 to 80," said Robert Brown, a professor of actuarial science at the University of Waterloo, Ont. "It is not going to happen tomorrow and it is definitely not the cause of the health care problems today even though some like to use it as a crutch."

The number of preschool children aged four and under declined 5 per cent, to 671,250 from 707,595. This is the smallest decline for this population among the provinces.

In 1991, there were 1.6 young people aged 15 to 24 about to enter the work force in Ontario for every person aged 55 to 64 preparing for retirement. In 2001, that ratio had narrowed to 1.4.

The province's working-age population is increasingly made up of older individuals.

The number aged 25 to 34, the young working-age population, declined 14 per cent during the past 10 years. At the same time, the population aged 45 to 64, the oldest working-age group, rose 34 per cent. This latter group is projected to increase another 34 per cent in the next 10 years.

"Seven or eight years from now we see a situation where if retirement patterns don't change more people will be retiring than entering the work force," Mr. Brown said. "We're going to have to start changing our attitudes toward elderly workers and look upon them as assets instead of liabilities."

"I believe quite strongly that in the near future you'll see more incentives for later retirement than you will for earlier retirement."

The 2001 census counted 5,832,990 women and 5,577,055 men in Ontario. Of these, 1,110 women and 270 men were aged 100 and over.

The province also remains home to some of the nation's oldest and youngest metropolitan areas.

St. Catharines-Niagara kept its ranking as the third oldest of the 27 census metropolitan areas, with a median age of 40.2 years, an increase of 2.6 since 1996.

Kitchener was third youngest, with a median of 35.3 years. The median age of the population of Toronto was 36.2 years, an increase of 1.6 years since 1996.

In addition, six of the 25 oldest municipalities with populations of 5,000 or more were in Ontario. The Ontario municipality with the oldest population was the retirement town of Elliot Lake, with a median of 49.4 years.

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