The 2011 Census Results: Population Growth and New Housing Trends [Infographic]

family by Caroline Tran
Happy Family by Caroline Tran

As the times change, so does the average family structure in Canada. The results of 2011’s census recently released by Statistics Canada shed an interesting light on the evolution of the Canadian family unit, and show that the shift in family demographics will have an impact on the housing market in Canada.

The bottom line:  The average Canadian family is becoming less and less... traditional. As CBS puts it:

“The mom-pop-and-three-kids-under-one-roof model that typified Canadian households of 50 years ago has morphed into a complex and diverse web of family ties involving living alone, re-marriage, stepchildren, empty-nesters, and multiple generations sharing a home.”

The 3-kid traditional model is no longer the norm enforced by societal rules. The number of married couples as well as the number of family members in the average family have been in decline for decades. The average family in 1961 had 3.9 members, while today it has 2.9.

Family formulas these days aren't simple; but rather, a diverse handful of non-traditional models... including a rise in the people going at it solo and  living alone in happy singledom. The number of "single person" families in Canada in 2011 was around 9.4 million — a more than 5 per cent increase from 2006. Last year, for the first time, the number of people living alone surpassed the number of couples with three children ~ and accounts for 27.6 per cent of all households.

The usual profile of this demographic is typically younger working professionals - but these days, there is more diversity within the sub group, which now includes more seniors than ever. This includes not only seniors who have lost a spouse, but younger men and women who may have divorced after decades of marriage. The number divorces in the senior population is rising sharply, even though a mere two decades ago they were very rare.

Canada Population Growth and Household Structure Infographics
Canada's 2011 Census Results: Insides into population growth trends and changes in the household structure Infographics

A New Trend Emerges: Fewer Children

Today, we are seeing fewer couples with children and even fewer married couples who have children younger than 24 (numbers have gone from 43.6 per cent just ten years ago to 39.2 per cent). Common-law couples are 14 per cent more frequent now than in 2006, and 44.5 per cent of families consisted of a couple living without children. This, however, also reflects Canadians’ aging population of Baby Boomers whose children may have already fled the nest.

In this census, Statistics Canada measured some new indicators, including the number of step-families in Canada. In 2011, one in ten children live in a household with at least one step-parent. Also, an unprecedented increase is visible in the category of same-sex couples. Their total number has officially risen more than 42 per cent since 2006. This of course does not reflect a rising number of LGBT Canadians, but rather a change in the societal acceptance of their relationships and the legalization of same-sex unions in most provinces.

All of these changes influence the housing market. The overall increase in the number of "families" (even people living alone) drives general housing demand up; but the decrease in their average size changes their preferences. Smaller condos that previously were favored  by younger families and professionals are now more often purchased by clients in their fifties who are downsizing in their retirement. The declining number of children also affects demands for propera neighbourhood with a good school.

Other Aspects to Consider

Changes in general family structure aren’t the only development that the census revealed. In the real-estate industry, it will also be interesting to see changes in internal migration and aging of the population, since both factors strongly influence demand and preferences of buyers.

Traditionally there were more people living East of Ontario, but that has apparently changed. Now, 30.7 per cent of Canada’s population lives West of Ontario while 30.6 percent lives in the East. Influential factors include the booming energy sector in the Western Provinces. Migration patterns are also influenced by the growth of large metropolitan areas. All ten areas with the fastest growth in Canada are located in the West (seven in Alberta, while British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba each have one). Okotoks, a suburb of Calgary, registered a stunning 42.9 per cent growth in recent years.

In general, all major metro areas across the Country have experienced growth since 2006. The fastest growing cities were Calgary (12.6 per cent), Edmonton (12.1 per cent), Vancouver (9.3 per cent), and Toronto (9.2 per cent). Since our cities are still growing at a healthy pace, a significant change in market demand can't be expected; however, the price disparity between cities and remote regions is likely to continue rising.

Aging Society

Porch Sitting by Zach Flanders
Porch Sitting by Zach Flanders

As the generation of Baby-Boomers gets older, it’s not surprising that the census showed such an increase in the proportion of seniors. The population of over-65ers has increased to almost five million over the last five years. The growth accounted for a 14.1 per cent rise in the category since the last census. All in all, the entire population of Canada is 5.9 per cent larger now than in 2006, but since near-seniors (people aged 60 to 64) soared 29.1 per cent over the past five years, aging will be even steeper in  future reports.

These numbers are not surprising because this trend has been visible for several decades in many countries, not only our own. Transversely, what has surprised many staticians is the 11 percent increase in the number of toddlers. A burst of growth in the population of children younger than 5 is contrary to what the trend was a decade ago. Laurent Martel, a demography expert at Statistics Canada, said in an interview: “I wouldn’t call it a baby boom, although I think we can call it a significant increase.”

The median age in Canada is today 40.6 years, up from 39.5 years five years ago and much higher than the 33.5 years of two decades ago. Age distribution within the country is influenced by migration and therefore, the Atlantic provinces and Quebec are aging more quickly than the west. This is due to the fact that people that move because of work usually belong to the younger generations. Alberta, the province with the majority of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas, also has the lowest proportion of seniors — with just 11.1 per cent of the province’s population over the age of 65.

The aging population will have special set of requirements for housing, and we can therefore expect further development of housing projects for the elderly as well as special services aimed at this group. On the other hand, external migration can have a heavy influence the further evolution of demography and therefore we can’t fully predict changes on the market. Largely, we'll have to wait and see if the current economic trends in the natural resource sector continue to drive jobs in Canada. Younger people will continue to migrate to where the work is ~ so perhaps a more equally populated Canada between Eastern and Western provinces will be the legacy of the decades to come.

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