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Province s aging population an opportunity says UNB economist

Author: Communications

Posted on Nov 29, 2013

Category: UNB Saint John

Dr. Michael Haan, Canada research chair in population and social policy at the University of New Brunswick, says that New Brunswick should look at its rapidly aging population as an opportunity, not a problem.

Haan was interviewed by Chris Morris of the Telegraph Journal following a recent Statistics Canada report that NB’s population is greying at a higher rate than almost every other province.

You can read Chris Morris’ article on the front page of the November 28 edition of the Telegraph Journal.

Michael Haan teaches in UNB’s department of economics.


Baby boom trend comes full circle
New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal
Thu Nov 28 2013
Byline: Chris Morris (Legislature Bureau)

FREDERICTON - New numbers from Statistics Canada show that New Brunswick's population is greying at a higher rate than almost every other province and territory in the country.

Only Nova Scotia has a slightly larger proportion of seniors in its demographic makeup, according to 2013 population and age distribution figures released by Statistics Canada.

The numbers show that 17.6 per cent of New Brunswick's total population (756,050) is made up of people 65 years of age and older. Nova Scotia has a marginally higher ratio at 17.7 per cent.

The four Atlantic provinces round out the top four spots in the country in terms of having the most seniors - all more than 17 per cent. Alberta and the territories have the lowest percentages of seniors - all less than 12 per cent.

New Brunswick also has the second highest median age in Canada at just under 44 years of age. Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest median age at just over 44 years.

Michael Haan of the University of New Brunswick said Wednesday the province should look at its rapidly aging population as an opportunity instead of a problem.

"There needs to be a change in mentality around our older population," said Haan, Canada research chair in population and social policy at UNB.

"These are interesting people who have lived full lives. I think young, entrepreneurial people should see opportunity here. You have this large population of aging boomers who are wealthy and have time on their hands."

Haan said the baby boomers, who began retiring in 2011, are the richest cohort in human history. They also are relatively healthy and are living longer than seniors in earlier generations.

"Baby boomers have had a pretty good run," he said. "They were young during the period of unprecedented economic expansion and they did well in the housing market. So they will drive public policies that will ensure they continue to do well into retirement."

He said that by 2036, almost 30 per cent of the population of New Brunswick will be 65 years and older.

Pensions, health care, public transportation and low-maintenance, well-situated housing are among the issues New Brunswick governments will have to address as they try to cope with a growing population of seniors.

"Urban infrastructures will have to reflect the populations they serve," Haan said.

Premier David Alward said his Tory government is well aware of the fact that New Brunswick has a population aging faster than most other provinces.

"It sends a message about the impact on social policy, such as health care and seniors' care," Alward said of the latest Statistics Canada figures.

"That's why we've been doing significant work with the various parts of our society that deal with our seniors, looking at things like home-first policies and how we can ensure that seniors are able to live more vibrantly in their communities longer. Making the right decisions on what the needs will be for housing, accessibility, and so on are all important issues."

Alward said the province's controversial pension reform process - under fire from many retired public servants - is a recognition by government of the challenges posed by an aging population.

"It's about making decisions today to ensure that we're going to be strong as a society for the future."

Haan said what is now happening in New Brunswick is the flip side of what happened in the province and the rest of Atlantic Canada during the post-war baby boom of the late 1940s and early 1950s.

At that time, the four provinces led Canada in fertility rates. For instance, in 1951, the average woman in New Brunswick had five children.

The fertility rate for the province now is 1.4 children.

"We can become a laboratory for understanding how to work with older populations, just as in the 1950s we showed Canada how to deal with a booming population of children," Haan said.

"It was, in many ways, Atlantic Canada that drove our education infrastructure - all those schools that were built because we had such high fertility rates. New Brunswick and the other Atlantic provinces were figuring out these things first. We could do the same thing with seniors."

Ironically, Haan said many of those old school buildings now could be converted into community centres with facilities for seniors.

"We had the largest baby boom in Canada. Here we are 60 or so years later and we are seeing these people who have gone through their entire lives and they are now retiring."

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