How has the pandemic changed population dynamics — #1: Canada-wide view

As always, here’s the TL;DR

TL;DR: During the pandemic we have seen more deaths, fewer babies, and a drastic drop in international migration.

Statistics Canada Table 17–10–0008–01 provides estimates on the components of population growth on an annual basis — how many babies were born, how many people immigrated to Canada, and so on. I thought it might be interesting to go through the data to see how the pandemic has changed things. A couple of caveats before we start:

  • These are estimates
  • The data runs from July 1 to June 30. So the data I have labelled ‘2021’ represents the change from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the data.

Births and Deaths

Plotting a decade’s worth of data, we see that births are down and deaths are up. We shouldn’t fully ascribe those changes to the pandemic, as they are at least somewhat in line with pre-pandemic trends. That said, the pandemic has almost certainly played a contributing, if partial, role. Note that the data for 2020 covers the period from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020, so is mostly (though not wholly) a pre-pandemic period.

If we look at the difference between births and deaths, we see a sustained decline over the last decade, including large declines over the past two years.

In short, births are down and deaths are up, but it’s an open question to which how much of that is due to the pandemic, and how much is simply the continuation of pre-pandemic trends.

From a Canada-wide perspective, the other way the population can go (or shrink) is due to international migration.

International Migration

First, we’ll consider net non-permanent residents. In the piece Ontario’s boom in non-permanent residents starts at colleges and universities, I showed how the vast majority of Ontario’s non-permanent residents are either international students enrolled in higher-education, international students who have graduated and are staying in Canada under the post-graduation work permit program, and their families:

The term non-permanent is a bit of a misnomer, as many non-permanent residents apply for permanent residency using the Express Entry system.

So we should think of them as pre-permanent residents rather than non-permanent residents.

Canada (particularly Ontario) saw a boom in international students in the latter half of the 2010s. Last year, Canada experienced a net decrease in the number of non-permanent residents.

It’s important to note that this does not necessarily mean that those individuals left the country. Rather they could have gained permanent residency, shifting them out of the non-permanent resident column and into the immigrant column (that is, the number of non-permanent residents decreased by 1 and the number of immigrants went up by 1). That said, it is almost certain that the pandemic caused international student enrollment to be flat, or decline, at some institutions.

So what did happen to the number of immigrants to Canada?

Turns out, down as well. Not as dramatically, but down.

I believe the 2016 spike is due, in part, to Syrian refugees gaining permanent residency, but I’m not 100% sure. Would love to hear from an immigration expert — please leave a note in the comments.

What about emigration — permanent residents and Canadian citizens moving to a different country? Turns out, that’s down substantially as well, though it may be due to pre-existing trends rather than anything to do with the pandemic.

That one surprised me a little. Talking to manufacturers, I know they’ve been losing talent to Ohio and Pennsylvania due to the housing crisis (and yes, house prices have been going up a lot there as well, but on an income-price ratio they’re still substantially more affordable). That effect is not showing up in the data yet, though the data only goes to June 30, 2021, and is an estimate, so maybe we’ll see a change next year.

There are a couple of other smaller statistical international categories. First is returning emigrants. That is Canadian citizens and former Canadian permanent residents that have moved back to the country. The data here is… weird.

If you know what is going on with these numbers, please let me know.

Finally, there is the category of net-temporary emigrants. These are largely Canadians (and permanent residents) who go to college or university in another country. Not surprisingly, these numbers have absolutely cratered due to the pandemic.

If we combine all of these international sources into a single “international” metric, the effect of the pandemic becomes crystal clear.

It’s an open question what will happen to international migration once the pandemic is over. While the federal government has increased immigration targets, the ongoing housing crisis is going to act as a limit on population growth, as international talent will choose to live somewhere more affordable, and we will lose Canadian workers to jurisdictions that can build the kind of family-friendly, climate-friendly housing to support a growing population.

In short, during the pandemic we have seen:

  • Increased deaths
  • Decreased births
  • A reduction in both the number of persons coming to Canada, and the number of persons leaving Canada.

In the next installment, we will look at the numbers from a provincial perspective.

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Mike Moffatt

Senior Director, Smart Prosperity. Assistant Prof, Ivey Business School. Exhausted but happy Dad of 2 wonderful kids with autism. I used to do other stuff.