OTTAWA Canada's population is aging so quickly that in a decade, there could be more people leaving the work force than entering it, a factor which will pose major challenges for employers, Statistics Canada said on Tuesday.
The central statistics agency, releasing the results of a 2006 census, said about one in seven Canadians was 65 or older, and the number of people reaching retirement was at a record high.
Low fertility rates and increased life expectancy has pushed up the median age to 39.5 years from 37.6 in 2001, when the last census was held.
"Population projections show that in about 10 years, Canada may have more people at the age where they can leave the labor force than at the age where they can begin working. This presents considerable challenges for Canadian employers and for society in general," Statscan said.
The aging work force has caught the attention of Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge, who last month urged policymakers to knock down barriers to labor mobility and allow senior citizens to work longer.
Dodge said Canada's potential rate of growth would decline as the baby boom generation retired, which means inflationary pressures could be triggered at a lower pace of growth.
Statscan said that in the 1970s, for every person aged 55 to 64 years, there were 2.3 individuals in the 15 to 24 years age group. By 2001, this ratio had fallen to 1.4, and in 2006, it was down to 1.1.
Despite the trend, Canada is the second-youngest country in the Group of Eight developed nations after the United States. But it has the oldest population in the Americas.
The number of people aged 80 years and over surpassed the one million mark for the first time between 2001 and 2006.
"That certainly has a lot of implications for a lot of the regional planning in terms of ... health care services," Rosemary Bender of Statistics Canada told CBC television.
Canada's publicly-funded universal health care system is already creaking at the seams amid increased demand.
The overall population rose to 31.6 million in 2006 from 30 million in 2001, a relatively small figure for the world's second-largest country.
The fertility rate, at about 1.5 children per woman, has been below the replacement level of 2.1 since the early 1970s. The life expectancy of Canadians is 82.5 years for women and 77.7 years for men.