05/29/2012 01:38 EDT | Updated 07/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Aging B.C. communities have fewer children, census confirms

The latest census figures show the number of children in many parts of B.C., particularly on Vancouver Island and the North Coast, is dropping rapidly.

The sharpest drop was in what Statistics Canada defines as the Parksville metropolitan area, where there were 2,600 children aged 14 and under in 2011, down from nearly 3,000 in 2006.

Statistics Canada uses the term census metropolitan area to describe any area with a population of at least 100,000, with an urban core of at least 50,000 people.

There were also fewer children in Powell River, Campbell River, Courtenay, Nanaimo and Victoria — and it's a similar story on the North Coast, where there were big drops in the number of children in Terrace and Prince Rupert.

Meanwhile, the number of seniors on many parts of Vancouver Island continued to climb, with the median age in Parksville hitting 58.2 years, making it the oldest population in Canada.

Statistics Canada defines median age as the point where exactly one half of the population is older than the median age and the other half is younger.

Three other B.C. communities were also ranked in the top five oldest communities in Canada — Sidney, White Rock and North Saanich.

The newly released census information on age and sex makes it clear Canadian society is getting older. The data released Tuesday comes from census forms filled out May 10, 2011 — a moment in time when the first of the baby boom generation was turning 65.

The numbers show aging bachelors in West Coast communities could have a special attraction — Sidney, White Rock, Parksville and Oak Bay all have the highest percentage of females in Canada at roughly 55 per cent.

Children up in growing communities

The 2011 census did find there are some regions in B.C. where the number of children has actually grown, including Fort St. John, which is in the midst of the northern energy boom, as well as Salmon Arm and Kelowna.

Overall, Metro Vancouver saw 2.5 per cent growth in children aged 14 and under, meaning children make up 15.3 per cent of the population. Across Canada, children represent 16.8 per cent of the population and the provincial average is 15.4 per cent.

The fastest growth in Metro Vancouver is in the Squamish Metropolitan area, which had an eight per cent increase in the number of children since 2006.

The latest census figures show the number of children has exploded in Surrey. Between 2006 and 2011, the number of children grew by roughly 9,000, giving it by far the most children of any B.C. municipality with 89,000 children.

Other municipalities located on the main rapid transit lines — such as Richmond, Burnaby, Coquitlam and New Westminster —all saw increases in the number of children.

But Vancouver lost about 2,500 children in the same period ,and there were similar declines in West Vancouver and the District of North Vancouver.

Aging metropolitan Vancouver

Despite the overall increase in the number of children in metropolitan Vancouver, the population for the region continues to age.

In 2011, the median age of the metropolitan Vancouver area was 40.2 years, compared with 39.1 years in 2006. Nationally, the median age in 2011 was 40.6 years and the provincial median age was 41.9 years.

Senior citizens now represent 13.5 per cent of the population of the metropolitan area of Vancouver, a ratio lower than the national average, the 2011 numbers show.

The aging population presents challenges — especially because Canadians are not having as many children as previous generations. By the time the next census is taken in 2016, Statistics Canada projects the country will be home to as many senior citizens as children. That will present governments with difficult choices such as how much funding should be allocated for health care versus education.

But despite the growing number of seniors in Canada, the country remains one of the youngest in the industrialized world. Among G8 countries, only the United States and Russia have a lower percentage of citizens aged 65 and over.

The national census is conducted every five years. The information published Tuesday is the second of several releases of data to come from Statistics Canada over the next year that will eventually paint a detailed picture of the country, right down to the local level — including age breakdowns of the population, family makeup, languages spoken, immigration and ethnic origin, the level of education attained and income earned.