Okanagan Valley Chapter: New stats show seniors are No. 1

Click here to read ‘News stats show seniors are No. 1‘ by Ron Seymor – The Daily Courier, September 29, 2015

Kelowna began living Canada’s future seven years ago.

Word that the country’s seniors now outnumber children is old news in the Okanagan’s largest city, where that has been the demographic reality for a while.

The imbalance toward seniors outnumbering kids is felt even more acutely in other Valley communities such as Peachland, where there are almost three times as many people aged 65 and older as there are children under 14.

“Kelowna and the broader Okanagan really should be looked at as a demographic bellweather for the rest of Canada,” says Mary Ann Murphy, a professor of sociology and social work at UBC Okanagan.

“Trois Rivieres, Que., Peterborough, Ont., and Victoria are neck and neck with Kelowna in the title for oldest city in Canada,” Murphy says.

That phrase ‘oldest city in Canada’ may not sound like a tourism marketer’s dream slogan. But the appeal of all things old, grey and perhaps a little creaky in ‘dem bones’ will only increase in years ahead based on current trends.

On Tuesday, Statistics Canada said that, for the first time, the number of Canadians 65 and older has edged out the number of children under the age of 15. Seniors now make up 16.1 per cent of Canada’s population, compared to 16 per cent for children under 15.

In Kelowna, seniors began to slightly outnumber kids in 2009, BC Statistics says.

Now, there are about 23,000 local members of the grey-haired set, compared to about 17,000 whippersnappers, according to information compiled by the city-run cemetery.

Of course, that kind of demographic intel is crucial to boneyard managers, who need to know how many people are going to die and come their way in the years ahead.

But the seismic shift in demographics will touch many aspects of civic life, from health-care costs to pension contribution rates, from school-building budgets to recreation facilities geared toward the needs and desires of oldies.

About one-quarter of all Canadians will be over 65 by 2036, Statistics Canada says. That’s the current percentage of Pentictonites who are 65 plus.

In Peachland, 28 per cent of residents are seniors, compared to just 11 per cent who are under 14.

Tomorrow is National Seniors Day, and the Okanagan chapter of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) is hosting a public discussion about the possibility of a national pharmacare system, which would, of course, be of particular interest to older people. (The free event starts at 3 p.m. at the Ramada hotel).

Murphy says there are some obvious rewards and challenges in having a population where seniors make up such a significant percentage of the total.

“One simple fact is we’re living longer, in part due to investments in public health and social programs. Canadians live 10 to 15 years longer than people in many other parts of the world,” she says. “That’s something worth celebrating.”

On the other hand, pension costs will rise in the future and serious labour market shortages could loom unless available vacancies are offset by the effects of immigration.

People sometimes worry the health-care system could be seriously strained by so many of us growing old and frail at the same time. But experts who’ve looked at the numbers suggest that fear is overblown.

Population aging has accounted for very

little of the increase in health-care costs over the past three decades, in Canada or elsewhere, according to a study published in the Canadian Journal of Aging.

The increase in costs, the study authors said, will “appear gradually and will be within the capacity of historical rates of economic growth to absorb.”

Their group’s name may suggests CARP members are crotchety oldies sitting around moaning about this and that in the modern world and lamenting the passage of the way things used to be. But that’s not the case at all.

Although she’s only 62, Murphy is a past-president of the local branch. Its new leader is Crystal Wariach, an aspiring lawyer. She’s 27 years old.

“Our board very deliberately tries to get people of varying ages involved,” Murphy says. “That’s because issues that affect seniors today, they’ll affect everyone eventually.”