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There is an abundance of statistical data related to senior citizens and the aging population.  What follows is a discussion of demographics that are particularly relevant to human rights issues for older persons.

A Snapshot of the Aging Population

Data from Statistics Canada indicates that in 1999, 12.4 percent of the population of Canada and 12.5 percent of the population of Ontario was 65 years of age or older[9]. The data further indicates that in 1999, 22.75 percent of the Canadian population was between the ages of 45 and 64.  Accordingly, In 1999 approximately 35 percent of the population was aged 45 or older.  Over the next four decades, it is estimated that the number of Ontarians over 65 years of age will double.[10] The following charts clearly illustrate the changing composition of the Canadian population:

This data is provided at the time of publication. For specific details consult:  Statistics Canada, 1996 Census of Canada, Age and Sex, Cat. No. 95F0186XDB and Statistics Canada, Population Projections for Canada, Provinces and Territories Ca. No. 91-520, online: Health Canada <>.

This data is provided at the time of publication. For specific details consult:  Statistics Canada, 1996 Census of Canada, Age and Sex, Cat. No. 95F0186XDB and Statistics Canada, Population Projections for Canada, Provinces and Territories Ca. No. 91-520, online: Health Canada <>.

Data Source: Statistics Canada, 1996 Census of Canada, Age and Sex, Cat. No. 95F0186XDB and Statistics Canada, Population Projections for Canada, Provinces and Territories Ca. No. 91-520, online: Health Canada <>.

At the same time, life expectancy continues to steadily increase.  By 2021, the life expectancy for a 65-year-old is expected to have increased by about five years from 1966[11]

Canadian seniors are not a homogeneous group.  At least from a broad statistical perspective, people aged 65-74 more closely resemble those in age groups under age 65 than they do those aged 85 and over, while people in the 75-84 age range appear to be in a period of transition. The population aged 85 and over, on the other hand, is the most likely to be characterized by many of the conditions associated with old age. This is particularly significant, because the population aged 85 and over is the fastest-growing segment of the overall senior population.[12] Accordingly, when discussing issues related to older persons, it is important to remember that broad generalizations and identical treatment of all persons over 65 years of age are not always appropriate.

A statistic that has implications for government fiscal policy and the structuring of government social security programs for seniors is the ratio of seniors (over age 65) to working-age Canadians (age 25-65): the ‘seniors dependency ratio’.  While the seniors dependency ratio has changed little from 1960 to the present day, and is expected to remain constant through 2005, it is projected to rise sharply after 2005, when the ‘baby-boom’ generation (those born between 1945 and 1965) begins to reach age 65[13]. This trend is significant as the majority of government transfers and purchases are made to or for Canadians age 65 or older, while the majority of taxes are paid by those of working age[14].

Seniors Income Levels

On average, seniors have lower incomes than people in most other age groups. 

About one in five seniors in Canada lives in a low income situation.  In 1997, 19% of the total Canadian population 65 and over had incomes below Statistics Canada’s Low-Income Cut-offs[15]. Female seniors have significantly lower incomes than their male counterparts[16]. Unattached senior women experience high poverty rates.  Using the Low-Income Cut-offs as a measurement of poverty, the poverty rate for unattached women over 65 was 43.4 percent in 1995[17].  In 1997 about half of senior women (49%) lived in a low income situation[18].

The last two decades have seen a decline in poverty among the elderly.  Nevertheless, a large number of seniors still live below the poverty line.[19] To illustrate the financial difficulties faced by some seniors, recent figures show that the percentage of seniors in Toronto who rely on food banks has more than doubled since 1995[20]

Seniors and the Labour Force

An important trend in the last few decades has been the decline in the workforce participation of men aged 55-64.  Between 1976 and 1995, the proportion of these men with jobs fell from 74% to 54%, although in the last few years this figure has increased slightly (to 56%).  In contrast, the share of women in this age group participating in the paid workforce has increased since the mid-1970s.  In 1998, 36% of 54-65 year old women were part of the paid workforce compared to 30% in 1976.[21]

Some seniors continue to participate in the paid workforce after the age of 65.  In 1998, 6% of all people aged 65 and over were employed, with senior men being considerably more likely than senior women to be working outside the home.  In 1998, 10% of senior men, compared with 3% of senior women, were part of the paid work force.  Many employed seniors work part time (41%) and 63% of employed seniors are either self-employed or unpaid family workers.[22]

Seniors and Institutions

Contrary to misconceptions that many seniors live in institutions, the vast majority of seniors, 93% in 1996, live in a private household.  In 1996, the remaining 7% lived in institutions.  In 1996, 85% of all institutionalized seniors lived in special care homes for the elderly and chronically ill, while smaller numbers resided in hospitals, religious institutions or other types of institutions.  Older seniors, especially older women, are most likely to live in an institution.[23]

Seniors are, however, more likely to be hospitalized than younger persons. Seniors, for example, were three times more likely than those aged 45-64 to be hospitalized in 1997. Hospitalization rates also rise substantially among older seniors, with people aged 75 and over being 70% more likely than those 65-74 to be hospitalized that year.  Seniors also tend to stay in hospital for considerably longer periods than younger people.[24] As such, seniors are important consumers of hospital services.

[9] Unless otherwise indicated, statistics are from the Statistics Canada Web Site, online: Statistics Canada <>.  Most of the available statistics relate to the Canadian population and only some information has been broken down by province.  However, as there is nothing to suggest that trends in Ontario differ significantly from those in Canada, where Ontario statistics are not available, this paper uses Canadian statistics.  Unless otherwise indicated, the numbers relate to Canadian population.
[10] P. Oreopoulos & F. Vaillancourt, “Taxes, Transfers, and Generations in Canada: Who Gains and Who Loses from the Demographic Transition” (Toronto: C.D. Howe Institute, June 1998), online: C.D. Howe Institute <>.
[11] From M. Gunderson, “Flexible Retirement as an Alternative to 65 and Out” (Toronto: C.D. Howe Institute, May 1998) at 4, online: C.D. Howe Institute <> [hereinafter Flexible Retirement] citing R.L. Brown, “Achieving Stability and Equity with Paygo Funding” Policy Options, September 1995 at 21.
[12] Statistical Snapshot No. 1: A Growing Population, online: Health Canada, Division of Aging and Seniors <>.
[13] P. Oreopoulos & F. Vaillancourt, supra note 10 at 4.
[14] Ibid. at 5.
[15] Statistical Snapshot No. 24: The Incidence of Low Income Falling, supra note 12.
[16] For example, in 1995 Canadian women aged 55-64 had an average income of $18,078 compared to $35,628 for their male counterparts, women aged 65-74 had an average income of $16,157 compared to $28,540 for men of the same age; from The Canadian Seniors Policies and Programs Database, online: Government of Canada <>.
[17] From S. Day, M. Young & N. Won, “The Civil and Political Rights of Canadian Women” Research paper prepared for the Honourable Lois Wilson (Spring 1999), online: Status of Women Canada <> citing National Council of Welfare, Poverty Profile 1995 (Ottawa: Supply and Services Canada, 1997) at 85.
[18] Statistical Snapshot No. 25: Gender Differences in Low Income, supra note 12.
[19] K.K. Lee, Urban Poverty in Canada: A Statistical Profile (Canadian Council on Social Development: April, 1999) at 30, online: Canadian Council on Social Development <>.
[20] “Rent hikes are pushing pensioners to the limit” The Toronto Star (29 April 2000).  Rent increases and a lack of affordable housing have largely been blamed for this trend.
[21] Statistical Snapshot No. 19: Decline in Employment Among Men Aged 55 to 64, supra note 12.
[22] Statistical Snapshot No. 18: Still on the Job, supra note 12.
[23] Statistical Snapshot No. 12: Living in Institutions, supra note 12.
[24] Statistical Snapshot No. 47: Hospitalization of Seniors, supra note 12.


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