Statistically, we know what population aging means.  There will be far fewer younger people for every older person in the population.  The large number of older people is not a surprise.  Even with increases in life expectancy it was still very clear fifty years ago that there would be a lot of retirees by 2030.  What was unclear was the rapid decline in fertility rates resulting in a more rapid rate of population aging.  Fertility, more than longevity, is changing our world.

 “As growth in population dwindles, so does the need to increase the supply of just about everything, except healthcare”[1]

According to Statistics Canada, our fertility rate in 2011 was 1.61.  Generally a fertility rate of 2.1 is required for population replacement.  Anything lower means that the population will decline unless immigration fills the gap.  Immigration is insufficient in Canada to close the gap. Consequently populations in many areas in Canada are aging rapidly.  In order to consider how our living experiences will change, Sidney British Columbia can be our petri dish.

Sidney is a small town on Vancouver Island with a population of 11,170.  It is attractive to tourists as well as to relocating retirees, offering ideal weather for outdoor lifestyles.  It is conveniently located close to both the Victoria airport and the Swartz Bay ferry docks.  Only a twenty minute drive to the greater Victoria area which has a population of about 360,000 and offers most services or goods needed by island residents.   Sidney is a story book town.  Live video shots confirm this: .

Sidney may be almost ‘any town’ Canada over the next two decades.  Currently its median age is 56.9 (Canada’s median age is 40.6).  Have a look at the population mix by age and the large number of those aged 65 and older (37%).  Sidney is losing young people (age 14 and under), showing a 12.2% drop from 2006 to 2011.   The size of the young adult population is also very small.  There are very few well-paying jobs for young adults making it difficult for this cohort to purchase a home, raise a family, participate in a community and grow a career.  There are few reasons for a young person to remain in Sidney.  A walk down main street shows few businesses other than a local theatre and some retail or fast food stores.

# of Residents by Age Group

Retirement and aging changes our consumption patterns.  There is a decreasing need for investment services as retirement funds and savings will move to more stable income sources and away from stock markets.  Instead banking, estate and philanthropy planning will increase, but each requires less maintenance than most financial growth plans.  There is also less need for groceries, clothing, sporting goods and many other retail items.  Demand for experiential activities will increase which including more demand for learning, socializing, dining, theatre, travelling and cause-driven activities (e.g. environmental causes).  There will be an increasing need for services such as public transportation, personal care support (e.g. housekeeping, home maintenance), nursing assistance (e.g. in-home health support) and even specialized housing (e.g. retirement homes).  Technology will be important including in-home systems to assist with socializing, entertainment and security.  Right now a place such as Sidney can draw on residents from other communities to work in their town.  As surrounding locations also age, this daily migration of workers may no longer be possible.

As populations age and shift to more appealing living locations such as smaller cities and towns it remains unclear as to how services will be delivered.  Working longer in retirement may become a necessity, not for financial reasons, but because there is no one else left to keep the proverbial lights on.

[1] Page 130 – Philip Longman (2004)  The Empty Cradle: How falling birthrates threaten world prosperity and what to do about it.  Basic Books, New York.