OTTAWA (Reuters) - The number of seniors in Canada exceeded the number of children for the first time last year, Statistics Canada said on Wednesday, pointing to the economic and social challenges facing the nation as the population ages.
The latest census release showed there were 5.9 million Canadians aged 65 and older in 2016, accounting for 16.9 percent of the total population, while there were 5.8 million children aged 14 and under, making up 16.6 percent of the population.
Aging baby boomers drove the changing mix in population, as did higher life expectancies and low fertility rates, the report said.
Canada, like many developed countries, is facing a shifting demographic landscape, and economists expect it will have to depend on immigration to maintain economic growth as its citizens age.
An aging population also means Canada will need to boost its productivity to drive the economy, something the country has struggled with, said Paul Ferley, assistant chief economist at Royal Bank of Canada.
"If there are fewer workers available, it can put pressure on businesses to increase productivity," Ferley said. "The big question mark (is) in terms of whether they will be successful or not."
While most Western economies are confronting an aging workforce, the situation in Canada is not seen as being as acute as it is in Europe and Japan, Ferley said.
In 2016, Canada had a lower proportion of seniors than any of its Group of Seven peers except for the United States, the report said, though it noted the rapidly aging population means the proportion of seniors could eventually equal the level in Japan.
Japan has the oldest population in the world, with one in four people 65 years of age or older. Seniors could account for close to one in four Canadians by 2031, the statistics agency forecast.
Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Jonathan Oatis