By MARGARET WENTE
Wednesday, July 17, 2002
How many grandchildren are you going to have?
The census has the answer. You'll probably have fewer than your own parents did, and not as many as you probably expect.
Statistics Canada's new census data offer a feast for the imagination and a revealing window into our own futures. The most remarkable new statistic is how fast we're aging. Half of all Canadians are over 37.6 years old and, before long, our nation's median age will hit 40. How will our society and culture be reshaped as we get greyer? Herewith, a few fearless predictions about what lies ahead.
The grandchild bust: The parents of the boomer generation had three or four kids. We boomers had two, or maybe three. Our own offspring are down to one or two, and quite a few are just getting a dog instead.
Talk to parents in their 50s with grown-up children, and chances are you'll hear something like this: "We'd love to have grandchildren. But our kids are still in law school/searching for the meaning of life/not inclined toward marriage/waiting till they've bought a house, rafted down the Nahanni, and made partner, by which time our daughter/daughter-in-law will be in her late 30s."
The main reason the population's getting older is that women just aren't having kids. The average age of marriage has soared to 29, and women's fertility rate has shrunk to 1.5.
So if you're an aging boomer, adjust your expectations. You could learn to be quite happy with grandpuppies.
The age liberation movement: First came women's liberation, then gay rights. The next big rights-seeking group will be the wrinklies. Their slogan will be: "70 is the new 50!" They'll launch age-discrimination cases against everyone who tries to trample on their freedoms.
Mandatory retirement at 65 will be abolished, partly because it will be declared unconstitutional and partly because the government and private pension systems can't afford it.
As usual, the front-end boomers will get everything their way. When they were young, the labour market snapped them up. As they get older, the labour market will try to hang on to them because of a growing skilled-labour shortage. Trust them to bargain hard for well-paid part-time jobs, including three months off every winter. Canada's traditional vacation calendar will be inverted as everyone leaves town in January to go to Florida.
The midlife-crisis crisis: According to Statscan, the population group 45 to 64 will jump another 30 per cent by 2011. It's a stressful time of life. Middle age brings empty nests, aging parents and abrupt career changes (not all of them good). People begin to seriously fret about their vanishing youth. Drug marketers and cosmetic surgeons will get even richer by promising to restore it. Expect a long-lasting boom in Botox, Lipitor, Viagra and whatever they come up with next for women after HRT.
One plus is that they'll finally make the print on menus bigger. One minus is that a record number of women will hit menopause. Canada will be awash in red-hot mamas. Don't say you haven't been warned.
The health-care uprising: Some experts say the coming health-care crunch has been overblown because the boomers are still relatively young, and because senior citizens are staying healthy longer than ever. These experts are kidding themselves.
Boomers are already struggling with the system on behalf of their own parents, and they're getting a shock. They don't like Mom being stashed in a hallway. Soon they'll begin demanding new hips and knees for themselves, along with other quality-of-life medical services that our system can't possibly deliver. Some time in the next decade, they'll get really mad.
The college crunch: Baby boomer children are moving on from secondary school to colleges and universities, which have now become mandatory for children of the middle classes.
Meantime, our institutions of higher learning are starved for money. Expect stiffer competition for the top spots, along with tuition that goes up and up and up.
The foreign nanny boom, again: The number of people over 80 is soaring, and the number of children under 5 is in dramatic decline. By 2011, predicts Statscan, there will be 1.3 million people over 80 and 1.6 million children under 5.
Who will care for all of our dependants? Nannies, of course, just as they do now. We will employ kindly nannies from the Philippines to look after our aged parents for us. They'll dress them and feed them and take them for walks in their wheelchairs while we look on anxiously, because we know that soon they'll be caring for us, too.
New hope for love among the ruins: Men are living longer, so the ratio of men to women in old age will be getting less lopsided. Once women hit 100, though, they outnumber men by four to one.
And here's some advice. If you don't want to hang around old people, avoid Qualicum Beach, B.C., which now has the oldest population in Canada. If you prefer youth and beauty, move to Banff. Alberta is the youngest province, and it's also the only province with as many men as women. See you there.