Consumer Trends Report – Chapter 3: Consumer Demographics

Menu

The wants and needs of consumers are directly related to their socio-demographic characteristics. This chapter identifies some basic demographic trends, first reviewing the age and household structure of the population (as consumers' needs change over the course of their lifetime) and then the increasingly diversified ethnic composition of the Canadian population. Finally, the geographic distribution of Canada's population is examined, as consumers in rural areas face strikingly different conditions in their access to goods and services from those of their counterparts in urban areas. The above demographic issues will also be referred to in our analysis of Canadians' socio-economic circumstances in the subsequent chapters on education, income, assets, debt, wealth and spending. This approach underscores the limited usefulness of considering trends for the "average consumer."

3.1 The Changing Age Structure of Canada's Consumers

Age is unquestionably an important factor in consumer identity, since consumption patterns and financial situation change significantly throughout an individual's lifetime. Broadly speaking, three groups have traditionally described the population's age structure: children (0–14 years of age), working-age adults (15–64) and seniors (age 65 and older). In addition, given that today's youth spend a much longer time than previous generations in formal education, the 15–24 age category is sometimes separated and identified as the youth population.125 University of Toronto economics professor David Foot has developed a more descriptive breakdown of the population's age structure (see Figure 3.1) (Foot 1996). His analysis coined new names for the various age cohorts now commonly used in the media and academic literature. Because much of Foot's work is devoted to analyzing the implications of demographics for a population's future demands on the economy, his typology of age groups is frequently used in this and following chapters.

Figure 3.1 — Common Terminology for Age Cohorts
  Year of Birth Age in 2001 Proportion* of Total Population in 2001 (Percent) 1981–2001 Growth of Corresponding Age Segment (Percent)

* Proportions are affected by the number of birth years within each cohort (for example, 13 years for baby busters between 1967 and 1979, and 20 years for baby boomers between 1947 and 1966). Back to text

Source: Terminology based on David Foot (1996); calculations based on Statistics Canada, CANSIM, table 051-0001.

Seniors 1936 and before 65 and older 13 65
Pre-boom 1937–46 55–64 9 34
Baby Boomers 1947–66 35–54 32 -76
Baby Bust 1967–79 22–34 18 -4
Echo (Gen Y) 1980–95 6–21 22 -1
Kids 1996- 5 and under 7 -1

Change in the relative proportions of age groups in Canada is expected to have an important impact on retailing (Industry Canada and Retail Council of Canada 1998, 6). The aging of baby boomers, that is, their transformation into the new senior group, is the greatest determinant of Canada's current and future age structure. Indeed, the senior population has already grown significantly, as Canadians' life expectancy has improved. At the same time, however, the shrinking youth group represents an interesting consumer subset.

Canada's aging population

The aging of the baby-boom generation is the most influential demographic force shaping Canada's marketplace, with nearly one third of the population between the ages of 35 and 54 in 2001. The median age126 in Canada increased from 29.6 in 1981 to 37.6 in 2001 (Statistics Canada 2002a). The age composition of the population no longer reflects a traditional pyramid, but is becoming a predominantly pear-shaped middle-aged structure (see Figure 3.2). It will change even more in the future, since seniors (swelled in number by the baby boomers) are expected to account for one in five (21 percent) of Canadians in 2026 (Statistics Canada 2001a). Beyond the baby boom factor, however, today's population is already proportionately older than in the past because of a significant rise in life expectancy during the 20th century.127 As a result, more Canadians are living longer: 7.3 percent of deaths in Canada in 1981 were among people older than age 90, compared to 11.8 percent in 1999 (Statistics Canada 2001b). Overall, the proportion of the Canadian population aged 65 and older reached 13 percent according to the 2001 Census data, an increase from 11.6 percent in 1991 (and 9.7 percent in 1981).

A marketplace responding to an aging population

For a number of the challenges associated with aging, consumers can find a helpful ally in the many manufacturers and product designers who are catering to "niche markets" (gearing their products specifically to address age-related needs) and enhancing their traditional products targeted to seniors and older boomers.

Examples of the former abound: growing numbers of assisted-living and full-care residences, home care, home medical supplies, home renovations to promote independence (ramps, lifts, etc.), and wheelchairs and scooters.

Examples of "enhanced" consumer products include hi-rise washers and dryers, which are raised on a pedestal to reduce back strain, large-button telephones, and cordless can openers relying on a body grip rather than a hand grip. Services, too, are tailored to seniors. Some insurance companies in the U.S. will reduce seniors' car insurance rates if they complete AARP's "55 Alive" Mature Driving program, or if seniors restrict their driving to daylight hours only (Sharp 2003). The travel industry is also targeting its offerings to wealthier and healthier seniors. For example, "Hotels, ski resorts, airlines and other tourism-related operations scramble to offer seniors discounts and special facilities" (Buhasz 2003).

Figure 3.2

Distribution of Canada's Population by Age Group, 1981 versus 2001

Source: Office of Consumer Affairs calculations based on Statistics Canada 97F003XCB01002.

When the fertility rate and other vital statistics are factored into an extrapolation of the age distribution of Canada's population over the next 10 years, it is clear that consumers who are past childbearing age will represent an increasing proportion of consumers. While Canadians aged 45 and older represented 31 percent of the total population in 1991, their proportion increased to 37 percent in 2001, and is projected to grow further to 43 percent by 2011.128 The cumulative responsibilities of these Canadians raise time management issues for some of them. With higher life expectancy and low fertility rates, Canadian adults have more parents than children for the first time in history (Statistics Canada 2003b).

Implications of growing retirement

Along with the aging population, the structure of the Canadian labour market is also expected to change significantly, which raises a number of issues for Canadians. Compared to the latter end of the baby boom (commonly referred to as Generation X), baby busters will likely be subject to less competition from baby boomers and should have good job prospects, since the retirement wave is likely to be particularly acute in some sectors. Rough estimates indicate, for example, that about half the education work force is likely to retire within 12 years (Mackenzie and Dryburgh 2003).

The impact of this is already being felt: in 2001, 18 percent of Canadians aged 15 and older provided some unpaid care or assistance to seniors, compared to 16 percent reported in the 1996 survey (Statistics Canada 2002b). As a result, over this five-year period, the number of Canadians aged 15 and older who provided such unpaid care or assistance increased by more than 600 000. The 45–54 age group in particular have significant obligations, with 25 percent reporting unpaid care and assistance to seniors (Statistics Canada 2002c). Beyond giving personal care, this assistance also includes spending time helping elderly relatives and neighbours with their shopping, banking and other necessary services.

Consumers living with a disability

In 2001, 12.4 percent of Canadians (living in households) of all ages reported having activity limitations.129 The reported disability rate gradually increases with age, reaching more than 40 percent for persons aged 65 and older. With respect to physical mobility in particular, the Government of Canada's report Advancing the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities notes:

Transportation is a key requirement to participate in the life of the community and to access important goods and services. Transportation issues range from being housebound due to lack of accessible transportation, to needing unavailable specialized transportation, to extra costs arising from regular use of taxis because of inadequate public transportation (HRDC 2002, 40).

These access challenges will need to be considered in the future. Of the 10 disability types surveyed, disabilities related to mobility130 were the most often reported by adult Canadians in 2001 (10.5 percent of those aged 15 and older), and were most prevalent in the senior population (31.5 percent of Canadians aged 65 and older). Decreasing family size is likely to diminish the range of options available to the growing number of aging Canadians with disabilities as help from family members may not be available.

What do these mobility challenges mean in the marketplace? Indirectly, consumers with mobility limitations may, overall, have fewer opportunities to get out and make independent consumer decisions. Furthermore, their helpers may also be constrained in making decisions for them, since these helpers may not have the time or knowledge to do so during their own daily shopping routines.

Sadly, a number of socio-economic characteristics combine to make seniors more vulnerable to, and key targets of, marketplace fraud. For one, more and more seniors live alone, particularly older women: in 2001, 43 percent of women aged 75 to 84 and 39 percent of women aged 85 and older lived alone, compared to 39 percent and 25 percent, respectively, in 1981 (Statistics Canada 2002e). Spending long stretches of time alone131 may predispose seniors to engaging in overly trusting relationships with dubious outsiders, such as unscrupulous telemarketers. Seniors are also at greater risk of having cognitive problems132 and may be less able to detect misleading marketing ploys. Furthermore, today's seniors are financially better off than seniors in the 1980s. Unfortunately, fraudulent telemarketers have been capitalizing on the vulnerabilities of seniors. For example, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, while the number of telemarketing prize and lottery fraud victims reported to the organization fell by 97 percent between 1995 and 2003 (a sign of the general effectiveness of awareness campaigns), victims 60 years of age and older have consistently accounted for a significant share of the total losses.133

Young people continue to be very influential consumers

While the size of the 6–21 age group will decline over the next decade,134 this group is the subject of much attention today, since it currently comprises the "echo generation"  — children of baby boomers. The level of marketplace interest in these children, however, is perhaps even more strongly related to their financial influence. Part of the financial power of members of the echo generation comes from what they buy with their own income (from work, allowances, presents, etc.), which is almost entirely disposable income, since parents provide the essentials. According to YTV's Tween Report, Canada's 2.5 million "tweens" (8 to 14 years of age) spent some $1.7 billion of their own discretionary income (YTV 2002). But they also increasingly influence family purchases (up to roughly $20 billion; see YTV 2002), some of which are delegated to them partly because of changing households (such as dual-income parents who are time-stressed).

The post baby boom group, a small group relative to the baby boomers, will also be interesting to watch from a general marketplace perspective, since a majority of its members have moved into prime working-age years. They are increasingly active consumers, facing a number of the most significant decisions that individuals make in their lives, such as buying their first house and first car, and all of the expenditures that come with having children.

Research opportunities

Canada's aging population brings with it significant societal changes. Just as governments are considering its impact on various policies and programs, so too will consumer researchers need to better understand the issues and challenges of aging for Canadians in their interactions with the marketplace. Targeted product and service development, the provision of information in advertisements and contracts, and access to redress all merit deeper analysis from the perspective of older consumers.

In addition to the aging trend, no sector will be left unaffected by the successive waves of boom and bust consumers. Are younger consumers more savvy consumers? Will their teenage experience with luxury goods affect their decisions when they start to purchase essentials? Will their information needs be different from the needs of the baby-boomer consumers?

3.2 Canada's Changing Households

Given the relationship between household structure, size and purchasing patterns, it is important to review the significant changes that have occurred in this area over the past two decades. Generally speaking, Canadian households are becoming smaller, with fewer children and with time-stressed parents. Between 1981 and 2001, the number of households grew significantly faster than did the overall population (40 percent versus 23 percent, respectively);135 this is due to the shift towards a greater number of smaller households. Average household size fell from 2.9 people in 1981 to 2.6 in 2001 (Statistics Canada 2002e). Part of the explanation for decreasing household size is the increasing proportion of households today that consist of individuals living alone (including widowed seniors), young childless couples, "empty nesters," and divorced individuals, the latter group a result of the increasing instability of conjugal unions today.136 Canadian women who have children have, on average, smaller families later in life. The instability of conjugal unions has also resulted in a trend towards lone-parent families, which, in turn, contributes to the decreasing household sizes. Finally, this section also considers another noteworthy change in the characteristics of Canadian households: the growing number of two-earner families with children.

Key household concepts

The data presented here are mostly from Statistics Canada's Census of Canada series, and only consider private households, excluding residents of collective dwellings of commercial, institutional or communal nature (such as a nursing home, military base or prison). Private households are broken down into family and non-family households.

A one-family household contains a census family.137 The census family, in turn, includes:

  • a married couple (with or without children)
  • a couple living common-law (with or without children); or
  • a lone parent living with one or more children.

If a household contains more than one census family, it is categorized as a multiple-family household, but is not broken down by specific type of census family.

A non-family household is one that includes no census family, such as:

  • one person living alone; or
  • a household composed of a group of two or more people who do not constitute a census family. One example would be students sharing an apartment.

This report aggregates multiple-family households and non-family households of more than one person into an "other" household category. Given the difficulty of analyzing these broad categories, these other households (which accounted for only 2 percent of all private households in 2001) are not reviewed in this chapter.

Source: Statistics Canada 2001 Census Dictionary, Cat. No. 92–378.

Living alone can be challenging for consumers

One-person households are growing faster than one-family households in Canada. The proportion of households comprising people living alone grew from about one fifth of all households in 1981 to about one quarter in 2001 (Statistics Canada 2002e) (see Figure 3.3). The likelihood of living alone is highest for seniors, especially among the most elderly seniors. In 2001, seniors made up 13 percent of the population, but they accounted for more than one third of people living alone (Statistics Canada 2002h). The increasing instability of conjugal unions is another likely contributing factor, since that same year nearly half of all people living alone were between the ages of 35 and 64 (Statistics Canada 2002h).

Figure 3.3

Distribution of Canadian Households, 1981 versus 2001

*"Other" includes multiple-family households and non-family households of more than one person.

**"Children at home" includes children of any age.

Source: Office of Consumer Affairs calculations based on Statistics Canada 2001 Census data in Topic-Based Tabulations, Families and Household Living Arrangements 97F005XCB01001, and Analysis Series, Profile of Canadian Families and Households: Diversification Continues, 96F0030XIE2001003.

The growing proportion of one-person households implies that more and more Canadians face specific consumer challenges. Not only do individuals living alone manage with only one income, they also bear "costs" in terms of lost economies of scale for many expenditures, such as housing, groceries and telephone charges. Living alone can even affect where people shop. For example, bulk purchases do not have great appeal for people living alone, so they are less likely to be able to save by buying in bulk.

The challenges of living alone can be particularly acute for seniors. It has been observed that over the last 30 years in industrialized countries, "disability-free life expectancy has stagnated, if not worsened, while life expectancy improved greatly" (Légaré 2001, 115). While the tendency of seniors to live alone can be interpreted as a growing level of independence, it is still likely that it requires — for them and their families — a number of housing and other adjustments. Living alone in old age could become even more challenging in the future, because falling fertility rates mean that the elderly will be more likely to have a smaller support network of siblings and children upon whom to rely for care, transportation and help with consumer and financial decisions.

Households without children are the majority

A majority (52 percent) of Canadian households today include no children,138 compared to 45 percent of households in 1981. And while the number of families with children is still growing in absolute terms, these families are having fewer children and are having them later in life. The proportion of families with three or more children has fallen over the past two decades, while the relative proportion with just one child at home has increased.139 Related to the overall decline in the fertility rate is the fact that Canadian women who have children do so at a later age: women aged 30 to 34 now have a higher birth rate than do women aged 20 to 24.140 The increasing age at which women have their first child reflects the tendency of women today to first complete their education and/or establish themselves in the work force before raising a family. A Statistics Canada report concludes that from 1981 to 1997, "delayed childbearing and smaller family size have a positive impact on the economic well-being of children" (Kerr and Bélanger 2001).141 As a result, a number of children today are growing up in better financial situations and probably consuming more goods and services than did previous generations. As noted in Chapter 2, this opportunity for businesses has not gone unnoticed.

Lone-parent families increasing

Reflecting the greater instability of conjugal relationships today, lone-parent families — a majority (81 percent in 2001) headed by women — have increased as a proportion of total families, from 11 percent in 1981 to about 16 percent in 2001.142 Lone-parent families have an average of 1.5 children at home, compared to 1.7 for common-law couples with children at home and 1.9 for married couples with children at home (Statistics Canada 2002j). Given the overall growing number of this family type, however, the proportion of all Canadian children aged 14 and younger living in lone-parent families has increased to about 19 percent of children in 2001, compared to 13 percent in 1981 (Statistics Canada 2003c).

A number of factors challenge lone-parent families in Canada. While many of these families are headed by economically vulnerable women, even economically stable lone-parent families face time constraints, and the limitations and stress that those constraints imply.

Why time constraints matter to consumers

Time is one of the main resources people dispose of when shopping and consuming — money is the other. If time is becoming an increasingly scarce resource for some consumers, a time-money trade-off can sometimes be achieved, for example, by using a mortgage broker's services to gather information about and compare options. Purchased consumer advice can help decipher an ever more complex marketplace. However, for those who must cope with both financial and time constraints, there is often no option but to make rushed purchases that may be either unsuitable or too expensive, as when a lone parent must rely on a relatively expensive neighbourhood convenience store for products, rather than take the time to pursue less expensive options located further away. In addition to consumer purchasing decisions, time (like money) is an important factor to consider when deciding how to obtain redress when a consumer transaction goes wrong. Time constraints can be a significant obstacle to the use of legislative tools to provide consumer protection, where, "from a consumer standpoint, …the expense, time commitments and complexity of court processes tend to make judicial recourse impractical for small transactions" (Industry Canada 2002, 31).

In 1998, female lone parents who were employed full time spent an average of 10.7 hours per day in paid and unpaid work (household child care, social support, civic and voluntary activities), exceeding the number of hours worked by full-time employed married parents (see Figure 3.4). Counted in unpaid household work are all the consumer activities that lone parents must handle by themselves. According to Statistics Canada's General Social Survey, the percentage of female lone parents aged 15 to 64 with children 18 years of age and younger that reported severe stress jumped from one in four in 1992 to nearly one in three (32 percent) in 1998 (Vanier Institute of the Family 2002).

Figure 3.4 — Average* Time (Hours per Day) Spent on Paid and Unpaid Work, by the Population Aged 25 to 44 Employed Full Time, Canada, 1998
Age Group 25–44: Employed Full Time Unpaid Work Paid Work Total

*Daily average over a seven-day week.

Source: Statistics Canada Catalogue 12F0080XIE, Table 3. Back to text

Female Lone Parent 4.4 6.3 10.7
Married Female Parent 4.9 5.5 10.5
Married Male Parent 3.3 6.9 10.3
Married Female Non-Parent 3.2 6.2 9.6
Unmarried Female Non-Parent 2.7 5.8 8.7

Two-earner households also face time constraints

A majority of two-parent families with children today have two income earners. The younger generation's approach to family formation is indeed strikingly different, as 72 percent of couples that had their first child in 1996 were dual-earners, compared to just 44 percent in 1971 (Lochhead 2000). In more than 70 percent of dual-earner families, both parents work full time (HRDC 2003). As a consequence, "the majority of Canadians under age 35 would view a 'traditional' mom as one who works for pay while raising a family" (HRDC 2001, 15).

Such sharing of financial responsibility has a positive effect on employment and income, but brings with it time constraints for non-work activities, such as child care, shopping, time with family and leisure. Overall, an increasing number of Canadians report severe time-stress.143 Working Canadians in particular report greater time demands from work itself, including an increasing number of supplemental work hours put in at home (see Figure 3.5). Thus, the issue of quality of life versus work is becoming an increasingly popular research topic. According to Canadians' comments reported in one recent study:

The amount of work … has increased dramatically in the last decade, mainly due to the increased use of technology. With today's technology we can have someone in our office, an incoming phone call, voice mails and e-mails — all of which are supposed to be responded to at once (HRDC 2003, 9).

Figure 3.5

Time at Work: 1991 versus 2001

Source: "Work-life balance in the new millennium: Where are we? Where do we need to go?" (Canadian Policy Research Networks Discussion Paper W/12, October 2001.)

The "time-crunch" is likely to increase consumer demand for time-saving (but more expensive) products and services, as well as for more convenient, less time-consuming ways to buy things. In some circumstances, however, it may also lead to poorer consumer decisions, since less time and effort can be devoted to comparison shopping and reflection.

Research opportunities

The "traditional" family in which Dad works and Mom stays at home and looks after the children is no longer the typical Canadian household. A better understanding of Canadian consumers will therefore require more attention to 21st century household realities, such as people living alone, lone parents and two-parent dual-earner families. One important trend, for example, is Canadians' use of time as a resource, in terms of both requirements and constraints. Consumer research will need to integrate household structure and time issues, for instance, when developing information materials for self-learning or when analyzing policy options that alter the consumer's share in the allocation of marketplace risks and responsibilities. Special attention may need to be given to situations in which time constraints make some consumers vulnerable when making decisions, especially in complex markets where the costs of a wrong decision are high. This is especially so for those who cannot afford to purchase consumer protection, such as advisory services.

3.3 The Changing Ethnic Composition of Canadian Consumers

Immigrants and visible minorities are ever more present in the Canadian mosaic. Immigration has been increasing over the past decades. Between 1991 and 2000 alone, 2.2 million immigrants were admitted into Canada. Levels of immigration have been high for most recent decades: for example, 1.3 million immigrants came to Canada in the 1980s, and 1.4 million during each of the two previous decades (Citizenship and Immigration Canada data reported in Statistics Canada 2003d). In light of increasingly low birth rates, net immigration (as opposed to a natural increase) is the main contributor to population growth in Canada (see Figure 3.6). Consequently, the proportion of the Canadian population born outside the country (18 percent in 2001) is at a 70-year high, and is second only to that in Australia (22 percent) (Statistics Canada 2003d).

Figure 3.6

Population Growth, Canada, 1980–2002

Source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM, tables 051-0001 and 051-0004.

Compared to average Canadians, immigrants arriving in Canada are younger and more likely to be living in a metropolitan region.144 In fact, almost all immigrants (94 percent) arriving in the 1990s took up residence in a metropolitan area, compared to an average of 64 percent of all Canadians who lived in metropolitan areas in 2001 (Statistics Canada 2003d).

Another important characteristic is the increasing proportion of recent immigrants from Asia.145 This in turn has increased the number of Canadians identifying themselves as visible minorities, from 5 percent of the total population in 1981 to 13 percent in 2001 (Figure 3.7), and this is projected to rise to 20 percent by 2016.146 The number of young people in this category is increasing: 16 percent of those in their 20s belonged to a visible minority in 2001, triple the 5 percent rate of two decades ago (Anderssen and Valpy 2003). As an increasing number of young Canadians have direct links to the world beyond our borders, further "internationalization" of Canadian consumer demand can be expected. Cultural differences are indeed an increasingly important factor in the broader context of research in consumer matters.

Figure 3.7

Proportion of Visible Minorities, Canada and Selected Census Metropolitan Areas, 1981, 1991 and 2001

Source: Statistics Canada 2003d.

The new faces of Toronto and Vancouver

Toronto and Vancouver, the chosen location of a majority of immigrants coming to Canada,147 have high rates of foreign-born persons as a proportion of the total population (44 and 37 percent respectively) compared to other urban areas around the world known for their significant immigrant population.148 In the case of Vancouver, the proportion of foreign-born individuals increased from just 30.1 percent in 1991.149 Thus, most newcomers to Canada are quickly exposed to the full panoply of consumer products and marketing — North American-style — that is associated with two of Canada's largest, most dynamic and innovative consumer marketplaces.

Canada is further differentiated by the wide-ranging make-up of its foreign-born population.150 In Toronto and Vancouver,151 about two out of five (37 percent) residents identified themselves as a visible minority in 2001, close to three times the national average. These cities are characterized by a number of distinct ethnic neighbourhoods (such as Toronto's Chinatown, Little Italy, Little Portugal, India Bazaar and Greektown), with unique business environments that include foreign-language signage and special imports, etc. Beyond these ethnic communities, certain sectors of these major urban marketplaces are also more broadly enriched by the increasing multi-ethnicity that favours new and different products, such as food services.

Interacting with the Canadian marketplace may be difficult for immigrants (especially those from significantly different cultural backgrounds), and providing consumer information to newcomers can be a major concern.152 Sixteen percent of non-European immigrants have said their understanding of their rights as a consumer and of the laws that protect consumers was "poor," which is twice the national average.153

Language barriers to understanding the Canadian marketplace

In 2002, 105 196 of the 229 091 immigrants (principal applicants and dependants) who arrived in Canada reported no language ability in either French or English (CIC 2003).154 This compares to 95 593 of the 226 060 immigrants that came to Canada in 1996 (CIC 1999).155 Longer time-series data on language ability at entry are, unfortunately, relatively difficult to access. However, it is recognized that, as source regions are now very different, "fewer entering immigrants have a home language that is either English or French" (Picot 2004, 16). In addition, results from the International Adult Literacy Survey indicate very poor literacy skills among the second-language foreign-born population (Tuijnman 2001).156 Members of Canada's culturally diverse population may hence be at a greater disadvantage in their dealings with the marketplace (e.g. in interpreting a contract's terms and conditions).

As their numbers increase, visible minorities may encounter the challenges of discriminatory practices. This unfortunate problem appears to affect all members of visible minorities, whether foreign-born immigrants or persons born in Canada. When asked whether they had experienced discriminatory or unfair treatment in Canada in the past five years because of ethno-cultural characteristics, 18 percent of visible minorities who had been in Canada for two or more generations reported that such treatment occurred sometimes or often, only slightly less than the 21 percent reported by first-generation members of visible minorities (Statistics Canada 2003e). Discrimination not only has been reported in both the rental157 and labour markets,158 but also in stores, banks and restaurants. This service marketplace setting was identified by about 35 percent of those aged 15 and older in 2002 who had sometimes or often been discriminated against in the past five years (Statistics Canada 2003e).

Research opportunities

As the foreign-born population in Canada continues to increase, it will be important for consumer research to consider how the Canadian marketplace changes and to identify consumer challenges for this demographic group. For visible minorities in general, attention and responses to discriminatory market practices, whether related to earning or spending, are important issues. There may also be a need to examine issues of particular relevance to Aboriginal consumers. For these consumers, access to choice and redress in rural or remote areas may be a concern, while those in urban areas may face discriminatory or even predatory market practices, for example in trying to obtain short-term, unsecured credit.

As the needs, behaviours and expectations of particular communities with regard to the marketplace can vary significantly from one to another, analysis of existing consumer protection measures may need to better account for these differences. In 1990, for example, Ontario's law governing funeral directors and establishments was redesigned to take "into account the changing cultural nature of Ontario by broadening the types of services available" (Evasuk 1990, C10). Other sectors and marketplace transactions may require similar reviews.

3.4 Where We Live: The Geographic Distribution of Canadian Consumers

While Canada had one of the smallest census-to-census population growth rates in 2001 (a gain of 4 percent from 1996) (Statistics Canada 2002k), interesting trends are still noteworthy with respect to the geographic movement of the population. For one, even though Canada's population density is very low relative to other industrialized countries, it is nonetheless relatively concentrated in urban areas: in 2001, a majority (slightly more than 64 percent) of Canada's population lived in the country's 27 census metropolitan areas (Statistics Canada 2002k).

More precisely, the urbanization of Canada's population has been concentrated in four broad urban regions, which accounted for 51 percent of the total Canadian population in 2001: the extended "Golden Horseshoe" in southern Ontario, Montréal and its adjacent region, the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and southern Vancouver Island, and the Calgary-Edmonton corridor. Population growth in these four regions combined was 7.6 percent between 1996 and 2001, compared to virtually no growth (0.5 percent) in the rest of the country (Statistics Canada 2002k). This urbanization trend is also associated with a "donut" effect, that is, growth in urban areas is proportionately higher for the regions surrounding a metropolitan core (the suburbs) than in the core itself.159

Rural living predominates for Canadians in the Atlantic Provinces, Saskatchewan and the three territories.160 Research documents a net exodus of youth from rural and small towns in every province between 1971 and 1996 (Statistics Canada 2001c). This affects the median age in rural areas, where it is higher and growing faster than in metropolitan areas.161 Age-related consumer issues and challenges are therefore likely to be exacerbated in rural contexts. One example is in the case of rural areas, where the housing supply is typically limited to large dwellings on large properties, which are frequently not the most suitable for older individuals, especially women living alone (CMHC 2002).

The circumstances in which Canada's rural population lives require careful consideration when one is dealing with the marketplace. In the financial services sector, for example, consumer advocates have expressed concern regarding the high rate of bank branch closures in rural areas.162 Individuals in rural areas, especially seniors, who are less mobile or less capable of using technology such as electronic banking may be unable to overcome the access and choice barriers that arise from living in sparsely populated areas with few retail banking outlets. Similar issues have been raised across Canada concerning other service infrastructures, such as post offices. In general, rural consumers can be disproportionately impacted by any retail store closures.163

Research opportunities

It is understandable that much consumer research will focus on the average situation of Canadians, that is, of urban and suburban dwellers. It is necessary, however, to ensure that consumer research on significant marketplace trends (such as changing retail formats and concentration and the electronic delivery of goods and services) considers the impact on the great number of Canadians whose daily access to the marketplace is markedly different from that of average Canadians. Government and consumer protection advocates should pay special attention to Canada's geographic realities when developing information and awareness materials, to evaluate the scope of the bias towards urban Canadians. Rural and northern consumer issues are likely to be fruitful avenues for researchers.


125 Survey results indicate that completing one's education is the most valuable step toward adulthood, with 73 percent finding it extremely important. See NORC 2003. Back to text

126 Median age is the point at which exactly one half of the population is older and the other half is younger. Back to text

127 Over the past 20 years alone, life expectancy at birth increased 5.4 years (7.6 percent) to 76.7 for men (as of 2000) and 3.2 years (4.1 percent) to 82.0 for women. See Statistics Canada 2003a. Back to text

128 Office of Consumer Affairs calculations based on Statistics Canada's medium-growth population projections. Back to text

129 Disability statistics in this text box are from Statistics Canada 2002d. Back to text

130 Defined in the survey as difficulty walking half a kilometre or up and down a flight of stairs, about 12 steps without resting, moving from one room to another, carrying a 5-kg object for 10 m or standing for long periods. Back to text

131 Statistics Canada 2002f presents data from the 1998 General Social Survey and reports that (excluding personal care activities such as sleep and personal hygiene) widowed seniors were spending an average of 10.3 hours alone daily, compared to an average of 5.9 hours across all the population aged 15 and older. Back to text

132 From a 1995 survey reported in Statistics Canada 1999a. A third of seniors reported having cognition problems (i.e. being either somewhat or very forgetful or having difficulty thinking). Back to text

133 For 1996 to 2003, victims older than 60 lost 84 percent of the total reported losses (not including the value of losses for "unknown age"). Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, Statistics on Phone Fraud. Back to text

134 Using the 5–19 age group as an estimate (given the available data), this segment of the population is projected to decline by 7 percent between 2001 and 2011. Calculations based on Statistics Canada 2001a. Back to text

135 Calculations based on Statistics Canada, "Type of dwelling and population by type of dwelling" Back to text

136 Women ranging from 30 to 39 years of age in 2001 are expected to be twice as likely to see their first unions end in separation or divorce, compared to women aged 60 to 69 in 2001 (i.e. who were 30 to 39 years of age in 1971). See Statistics Canada 2002g. Back to text

137 Note that changes to the concept of a census family in 2001 have some effect on historical comparisons. For example, with the 2001 census, two persons living in a same-sex common-law relationship (along with any of their children residing in the household) are considered a census family, in line with some recent legislative changes. Previously, the household type associated with this situation would have been "non-family." Other changes have also somewhat affected the definition of child in a census family. For more details, see "Changes to Family Concepts for the 2001 Census," Statistics Canada Cat. No. 92–381, Appendix A1. Back to text

138 Only one-person households and couple households without children were included in the calculations, although a share of "other" households may be without children. Back to text

139 See Statistics Canada 2002h. In 2001, 43 percent of families with children at home had just one child, up from 37 percent in 1981. Over the same period, the proportion of families that had two children at home remained virtually unchanged (39 percent, up from 38), while the proportion with three or more dropped from 25 to 18 percent. Back to text

140 A comparison of age-specific fertility rates (i.e. the number of live births in each age group divided by the total female population in each age group) between 1986 and 2002 reveals decreasing rates for all age groups younger than 30 years old, but increasing rates for all age groups of women 30 and older. See Statistics Canada 2002i. Back to text

141 The report notes, however, that overall these positive changes were not as important as the harmful impacts of the increasing trend in lone parenthood. Back to text

142 With changes to the definition of "child" in the concept of census family in 2001, the most significant result was a 10.1-percent increase in the absolute number of lone-parent families. Even if using the pre-2001 census family concept, however, lone-parents' relative size still increased to 15 percent of total one-family households. See Statistics Canada 2001 Census topic-based tabulation 97F0005XCB01006. Back to text

143 The proportions have increased from 12 percent of men (15+) and 16 percent of women (15+) in 1992, to 16 percent and 21 percent, respectively, in 1998. See Statistics Canada 1999b. Back to text

144 Seventeen percent of immigrants who arrived to Canada during the 1990s were between the ages of 5 and 16, 46 percent were 25 to 44, and 17 percent were 45 to 64 (Statistics Canada 2003d). As a comparison, in the total Canadian population in 2001, 16 percent were age 5 to 16, 31 percent were 25 to 44, and 24 percent were 45 to 64 (calculations based on Statistics Canada, CANSIM, table 051-0001). Back to text

145 The proportion of immigrants arriving in Canada from Asian countries increased from 33 percent in the 1970s to 47 percent in the 1980s and to 58 percent during the 1990s. There has been a decrease in the number of immigrants from European countries, from 36 percent in the 1970s and 26 percent in the 1980s, to 20 percent in the 1990s (Statistics Canada 2003d). Back to text

146 The Employment Equity Act defines visible minorities as "persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour" (Statistics Canada 2003d). Back to text

147 In the 1990s, 43 percent of immigrants coming to Canada located in Toronto and 18 percent in Vancouver. In comparison, Toronto accounted for 16 percent of the total Canadian population in 2001 and Vancouver for 7 percent (Statistics Canada 2003d). Back to text

148 Comparisons include 59 percent of Miami's population, 41 percent for Los Angeles, 36 percent for New York City, 33 percent for Singapore, and 31 percent for Sydney. See United Nations 2004. Back to text

149 See Statistics Canada, Canadian Statistics — Proportion of foreign-born population, by census metropolitan area (2001 Census). Back to text

150 Toronto, for example, is said to be represented by more than 90 ethnic groups, whereas 96 percent of foreign-born people in Miami are from Latin America. See Conway-Smith 2004. Back to text

151 Montréal was the third most important destination of immigrants in the 1990s (12 percent), but this appears less significant because the proportion of immigrants it receives is closer to its share of the Canadian population (11 percent). Montréal's ratio of foreign-born as a proportion of its total population is at the national average (18 percent) (Statistics Canada 2003d). Back to text

152 See, for example, "Shopping and Banking" from Manitoba Labour and Immigration. Back to text

153 Questions commissioned by the Office of Consumer Affairs as part of Environics Research Group's Focus Canada survey, 2002–01. Back to text

154 Children under the age of 15 accounted for 37 935 of the 105 196 immigrants with no language ability in either official language. When considering only immigrants aged 15 and over, the proportion reporting no language ability in either French or English was close to 40 percent. Back to text

155 Children under the age of 15 accounted for 39 452 of the 95 593 immigrants with no language ability in either official language. Back to text

156 Among the native-born population, 13 percent of Canadians perform at Level 1 on the prose scale, a proportion that reaches 51 percent for the second-language foreign-born population. See Chapter 4 for details on the International Adult Literacy Survey scales and literacy levels. Back to text

157 A study by University of Toronto sociologist Eric Fong reports that low-income visible minority immigrant residents in major Canadian cities are paying comparably high rents for poor quality housing (see Carey 2001). Back to text

158 "…56 percent of those who had sometimes or often experienced discrimination or unfair treatment because of their ethno-cultural characteristics in the past five years, said that they had experienced such treatment at work or when applying for work" (Statistics Canada 2003e, 21). Back to text

159 Considering Canada's 27 census metropolitan areas (CMAs) as a group, 1996–2001 population growth in the core municipalities is reported to be 4.3 percent, half the 8.5 percent growth rate of their surrounding municipalities (Statistics Canada 2002k). Back to text

160 In 2001, the proportion of the population living in predominantly rural regions was 53 percent in Newfoundland and Labrador and in Saskatchewan, 60 percent in Nova Scotia, 78 percent in New Brunswick, and 100 percent in the three territories and Prince Edward Island (since all of the latter's population was classified as "predominantly rural" according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development definition used in the report) (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada 2002). Back to text

161 The median age of the population living in rural and small town areas increased 3.5 years since 1996 and reached 39.0 years in 2001, compared to an increase of 1.8 years for census metropolitan areas to 37.0 years (Statistics Canada 2002l). Back to text

162 A Public Interest Advocacy Centre study suggested a loss of approximately 45 percent of bank branches between 1989 and 1998, a situation that consumer representatives fear may lead to increasing reliance on expensive and unregulated alternative services for the population in rural areas (PIAC 2000). Back to text

163 In the words of one rural resident commenting on the closing of a used-clothing store: "I don't know if they understand the difference between small towns and big cities and the miles we have to travel." See Haight 2003, A13. Back to text