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SENIORS OUTNUMBER CHILDREN FOR THE FIRST TIME

by Doug Norris, Ph. D. | Sep 30, 2015

There’s big news in the demographic world: Statistics Canada has reported that, for the first time, the nation is home to more seniors than children. According to a new release of demographic estimates for 2015, the population aged 65 and over now numbers 5.78 million and represents 16.1 percent of the total population. Meanwhile, those under the age of 15 number 5.75 million and represent 16 percent of Canadians.

Canada has officially passed a population milestone.

Of course, this development comes not entirely as a surprise since the gap between the number of older residents and the number of children has been narrowing for many decades. Moreover, the 65-and-over population will continue to grow as the large Baby Boom generation moves into their 60s and 70s, as noted in a Toronto Star article. Projections indicate that the 65-and-over crowd will increase by 86 percent over the next 20 years and represent nearly a quarter of Canada’s total population by 2035.

The growing size of the older population has implications for all aspects of society. The impacts on health care and social security spending are clear and have been much discussed in articles like today’s story in the Globe and Mail. We are already seeing changes in the mix of new housing as more condos and apartments are being built to accommodate an older, empty-nesting population. Suburbs originally designed with young and expanding families in mind will need to evolve if they are to accommodate the needs of much older residents. In these car-dependent communities, the elderly population might require more public transportation services that allow them access to health care facilities and senior centres.

Businesses will also need to adjust their products and services for an aging customer base. For example, with smaller households, including many more one-person households, bulk-size/gallon jars of mustard just won’t cut it. Manufacturers will need to decrease the size of packages while increasing the size of the print on their labels. With mobility a challenge, the older population may become the best customers of online grocery delivery services.

In preparing for tomorrow’s older population, planners need to look beyond sheer numbers to understand how this new generation of seniors, the Boomers, differ from their predecessors in their aspirations, values and behaviours. For example, Boomers are more educated, have smaller families and went to work at a time when women joined the labour market than ever before. Changing immigration patterns have also out a different cultural stamp on the Boomer generation; over the course of their lifetime, the source of immigrants has changed from Europe to Asia.

Not surprisingly, Boomers’ values are very different from their parents. As the wealthiest generation in history, they’re more in control of the direction of their future and will be more demanding of products and services targeted to their needs. They have less of a sense of duty to others and are more focused on their own interests as they live out their older years, many in relatively good health. Marketers need to pay increased attention to the interests and aspirations of a more active and engaged older generation of consumers, especially in areas related to travel, finances and technology.

Finally, it is important for businesses and planners to recognize that the older population is not only a large and growing group, but it is also a very diverse one in terms of their lifestyles. The Environics Analytics PRIZM5 segmentation system, which classifies Canadians into 68 lifestyle types, designates 13 segments as members of the Mature Lifestage. And those segments range from Emptying Nests (older, upper-middle-income suburban couples) to Rustic Roads (rural, downscale older couples).

Marketers have known about the ageing population for some time, but in recent years attention has been more focussed on the young Millennial generation. Although the Millennials will clearly play an increasingly important role in consumer expenditures, the large Baby Boom generation should not be dismissed. Today, Boomer households, aged 50 to 69, account for about 40 percent of total consumer expenditures, and even a decade from now, they’ll still account for about 25 percent of total expenditures. No doubt they’ll refuse to go gently into that good night.

—Doug Norris