Mature couple travelling with backpacks and laptop

Population aging is nothing new, but Statistics Canada data released Wednesday finds that the number of workers on the brink of retirement has never been larger.

According to the national statistical agency, the latest census indicates that Canada’s working age population, “has reached a turning point,” with a large segment of the workforce (21.8%) potentially on the verge of retirement —representing the share of workers aged 55 to 64.

“This is an all-time high in the history of Canadian censuses and one of the factors behind the labour shortages facing some industries across the country,” it said.

Indeed, the working-age population has never been older, StatsCan said — noting that the segment of Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1965, who started turning 65 in 2011) that are nearing retirement age are also driving the overall aging of the population.

“There are challenges associated with an older workforce, including knowledge transfer, retaining experienced employees, and workforce renewal,” it said.

By 2030, the last of the Baby Boomers will have reached age 65, and the near-retiree cohort will start to “carry less demographic weight within the working-age population,” StatsCan said.

“They will be replaced by individuals from the smaller Generation X and, as a result, the number of people nearing retirement is expected to decline over the coming years,” it said.

At the same time, the working age population will represent a smaller share of the overall population.

Currently, working age people account for 64.8% of the population, but this could fall below 60% by 2051, StatsCan said.

“An increase in immigration — even a large one — would not significantly curb this projected drop,” it said. “A higher labour force participation rate among persons aged 50 and older could play a role in reducing the impact on the labour force.”

Alongside the large cohort of near retirees in the latest data, the proportion of the population aged over 65 has risen to 19.0% from 16.9% in 2016, the agency reported.

“Older Canadians are a growing economic and politically influential group. They are staying healthier, active, and involved for longer,” StatsCan said.

The agency also noted that while the pandemic slowed population growth overall it, “has not had a significant impact on population aging.”

While the pandemic inflicted around 12,900 additional deaths among those aged 65 and older, the population of those aged 65 and up still grew by nearly 245,000 people, driven by those who turned 65 in 2020.

Additionally, since immigration fell significantly in 2020 due to the border restrictions imposed in response to the pandemic, the share of young adults in the total population declined slightly, “since immigrants and non-permanent residents are often young adults in their twenties or thirties when they arrive in Canada.”