By JENNIFER LEWINGTON
URBAN AFFAIRS REPORTER
Saturday, July 13, 2002 Print Edition, Page A2
When Statistics Canada releases its newest snapshot of the country next week, showing the age and sex of Canadians last year, the numbers will point to some politically charged problems to come.
A fast-greying population and relatively fewer children under age 4 are two trends expected from the 2001 census. So, for example, should there be fewer daycare centres or more nursing homes -- or both? With the first wave of baby boomers (those born from 1947 to 1966) turning 55 as of 2001, will they retire early or work longer?
"The numbers themselves are important in terms of the demand for services," said Doug Norris, director-general of census and demographic data for Statistics Canada. "But the other factor is the behaviour or choices that people make."
Canadians are living longer; the group aged 80 and up is increasingly significant. Many now live beyond 100. The numbers to be released Tuesday will underscore an important gender difference: Women outlive men and make up a hefty segment of the 80-plus group.
Young women in their 20s and 30s are delaying childbirth or not having babies at all. Earlier this month, Statistics Canada reported that Canadian fertility hit a record low in 1999: an average of only 1.5 children per woman, compared with two in the U.S..
With next week's census numbers, University of Toronto economist David Foot expects "a dramatic decline" in the preschool-age population.
But he expects growth in the high-school cohort to intensify competition for spaces at college and university.
The census also has "severe" implications for health policy, said Michael MacDonald, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a Halifax-based think tank.
With rural and small-town Canada shrinking, the delivery of health care to a dispersed and aging population could become a costly proposition, he warned.
Mr. Foot criticizes recent health-care restructuring exercises for ignoring predictable census trends. He argues that it makes no sense to close hospitals in older communities since the demand for services to aging residents will only rise.
One flash point of disagreement on the census numbers is their impact on labour markets. Will the demand for workers outstrip supply?
No, is Mr. Foot's emphatic answer. Today's crop of 40-year-olds, he said, "are not about to retire and won't be retiring for another 20 years. So there is no need to worry about labour shortages."
Conference Board of Canada president Anne Golden disagrees, predicting a "war for talent" as baby boomers reach retirement age -- or choose to leave early.
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