New figures from Statistics Canada show some occupations, including physicians, are struggling to attract new workers, likely not good news for a medical system struggling to meet demand, as this line up outside a walk-in clinic in the Saanich Plaza suggests. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

New report shows effects of Canada’s aging workforce

Health care among the most rapidly aging sectors

New figures from Statistics Canada show some sectors of the Canadian workforce are aging rapidly, while others have remained relatively young.

The big picture shows the share of workers aged 25 to 34 has reached parity with the share of workers aged 55 and older. Almost a quarter-century ago, nearly three workers aged 25 to 34 were in the workforce for every worker aged 55 and older.

This development reflects demographic realities with baby boomers aging out of the workforce, and fewer younger people taking their place. From 1996 to 2018, the proportion of workers aged 55 and older almost doubled, from 10 per cent to 21 per cent of the workforce.

Looking at specific sectors, workers in the health care and social assistance sector are among the fastest aging group.

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“Despite the rising demand for health care services, workers who are providing health care to an increasingly older population are themselves aging,” Statistics Canada says in an accompanying report. Among registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses—the largest occupation related to health care—about one in five workers was aged 55 and older in 2016, compared with less than one in 10 in 1996.

“Similarly, specialist physicians had one of the largest shares of older workers at 31 per cent in 2016, compared with 23 per cent in 1996,” it reads. The share of general practitioners and family physicians aged 55 and older was 18.8 per cent, still relatively high.

Overall, the report notes that the share of older workers has increased for almost all occupations, and some occupations (most managers, physicians and university professors) will struggle to attract replacements, a troubling prospect for a system that is already straining.

On the other hand, some occupations attract more young workers than the number of old people leaving those professions. Many of these professions are relatively new and include professional occupations in advertising, marketing and public relations, as well as computer and information systems managers. Women also tend to make up a higher share of workers in those occupations, partly because occupations with a high share of older workers have previously been unattractive to women, or worse, practically closed off to them for various reasons.

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The report also draws attention to the relationship between technology, globalization and demographics.

Consider Canada’s clothing manufacturing industry. It still employed 60,900 industrial sewing machine operators in 1996. By 2016, that number had dropped to 16,200 as technological developments and off-shoring rendered Canadian workers too expensive and unproductive. Not surprisingly, few young people entered a dying occupation, now one of the fastest aging occupations. More than 40 per cent of industrial sewing machine operators are aged 55 and over, an increase of 30 per cent.

The story is similar in farming, where almost 52 per cent of farm managers are aged 55 and over. Yet over the course of 20 years, the number of farm managers has dropped to 152,300 from 226,900.

By contrast, just over 16 per cent of computer and information systems managers are aged 55 and over.

This relationship, however, also contains a warning for young workers. If technological changes and globalization can eliminate entire industries, 20-somethings working as web designers today should not count on doing the same work when they enter their 50s.


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