May 11, 2022

2021 Census population trends: Population by age

On April 27, Statistics Canada released the second set of results from its 2021 census of the Canadian population. This release focuses on the demographic profile of Canadians—by age, sex, gender, and type of dwelling.

Data from the 2021 census will be issued in seven waves over the course of 2022. The next issue will be released on July 23 and will include information on families, households, marital status, military experience, and income. We are tracking each of these releases to bring you a snapshot about how Alberta is evolving over time.

Our last census analysis looked at overall population growth by province and major urban centers. In this Quick Read, we are taking a closer look at population broken down by age. More specifically, we are looking at generational composition—the different sizes of various generations in Canada’s provinces and urban centers.

Canadian Generations

For this analysis, we followed Statistics Canada’s definition of generations:

  • Generation Alpha: aged 8 or younger (born 2013-2021)
  • Generation Z: aged 9 to 24 (born 1997-2012)
  • Generation Y (millennials): aged 25 to 40 (born 1981-1996)
  • Generation X: aged 41 to 55 (born 1966-1980)
  • Baby Boomer Generation: aged 56 to 75 (born 1946-1965)
  • Interwar Generation: aged 76 to 93 (born 1928-1945)
  • Greatest Generation: aged 94 or older (born before 1928)
The country

Canada’s largest generation continues to be the Baby Boomers, though their share of the population is declining. The number of Baby Boomers in the country fell 3.1% since the 2016 census, as this cohort reaches ages with higher mortality. As a result, for the first time, Baby Boomers account for less than one-quarter of the population (24.9%).

Millennials are the second most populous generation in Canada (21.5%) and the fastest-growing cohort. Between 2016 and 2021, the number of Millennials increased 8.5%, compared to 5.2% for the total population. Immigration is primarily driving the expansion of this cohort as more than half of new immigrants over the past five years were Millennials. As such, Millennials are poised to outnumber Baby Boomers and become Canada’s largest generation.  

The provinces

Alberta continues to boast the youngest population among the Canadian provinces[1]—with a median age of 38.4.

[1]The three territories—Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut—have the youngest populations in Canada due to higher fertility and lower life expectancy, but for this analysis, the territories will be excluded from comparison.

Alberta’s population has the highest proportion of Millennials (23.3%), the second-highest proportion of Gen Z (19.7%) and also the lowest proportion of Baby Boomers (21.4%) and those from the Interwar Generation (5.3%). Interestingly, Alberta is the only province where Millennials currently outnumber Baby Boomers.

However, as is the trend with the country as a whole, Alberta is not quite as young as it was five years ago. In fact, Alberta has aged more in the last five years than the country has. Between 2016 and 2021, the median age in Alberta moved from 36.8 to 38.4 (+1.6 years), while the median age in Canada moved from 41.2 to 41.6 (+0.4 years). And while there are a lot of Millennials and Gen Z’s in Alberta, the growth rate of these cohorts (3.4% and 3.6%, respectively) in the province trailed behind Canada’s (8.5% and 6.3%, respectively).

The prairie provinces—Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba—have the youngest populations in Canada and are the only provinces where the proportion of Generation Alpha is in the double digits. The size of this generation is primarily driven by the fact that fertility rates are higher in the prairies. This may change in the coming years, however. A recent survey found that one in five prairie province residents intend to delay having children or have fewer children altogether—a higher proportion than in most other parts of Canada.  

In addition to higher fertility rates, Alberta’s young population is also due to inter-provincial migration trends. Inter-provincial migrants tend to be young people, and historically, many young people have left Atlantic Canada for economic opportunities in Alberta. This has driven down the average age in Alberta while subsequently raising it in Eastern Canada. Atlantic Canada also tends to attract far fewer immigrants than other regions in the country. As such Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest proportion of Baby Boomers in their population—nearly 1 in 3—making it the province with the oldest population in Canada, with a median age a full ten years older than Alberta’s (48.4 vs 38.4).

Trends within Alberta

High River has the highest median age in Alberta (44.8). The town has the largest proportion of Baby Boomers (26.8%) and experienced the strongest growth of this cohort (9.4%) between 2016 and 2021. The region with the youngest median age is Grande Prairie (34). Grande Prairie has the largest proportion of Millennials (28.9%) but, interestingly, experienced negative growth in this cohort between 2016 and 2021 (-5.6%).

Currently, Millennials congregate in the downtowns of major urban cities and, on average, account for one-third of their populations. This effect is amplified in Alberta’s major cities, where millennials account for half of downtown Calgary’s population and 38.3% of Edmonton’s.

The census provides policymakers with important information about how the Canadian population is growing and evolving. For example, understanding the age makeup of a region can help society better provide and care for residents now and in the future. Furthermore, as each generation influences society according to their unique perspectives and values, generational composition data can provide us with a window into the forces at play in society.

Emma Dizon, Policy Analyst

Explore Insights:

Share This