Demographics - Frequently Asked Questions and Glossary

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a census year? How does it differ from a calendar year?

A census year runs July 1st to June 30th. It starts at the midpoint of a calendar year (January 1st - December 31st). Population is stated to be “[Number], as of July 1st, [Year]”. The components of population change run from July 1st to June 30th, and are captured between year t to t+1 (or, 2015-2016, for instance).

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What is a population estimate?

Population estimates are exactly what they sound like: an estimate of the size and age/sex detail of the population either between censuses or after the most recent census. Since the census is completed once every five years, there is a need for more recent population information. Population estimates are either postcensal (after the most recent census), or intercensal (between two censuses, and adjusted to the most recent census). As recent censuses occur and are released, postcensal population estimates are revised to become intercensal population estimates.

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Why are population estimates revised?

Population estimates are revised as new data and information becomes available. This ensures the most accurate estimates possible are available. Population estimates can be revised off of new data or from the most recent census as it is released. This revision to the estimates from census data means that population estimates can either be intercensal or postcensal. Postcensal estimates are population estimates that are created after the last census. Intercensal estimates are postcensal estimates that are revised when data for the next census is released.

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What is population aging, and why is it important?

With lower fertility rates and longer life expectancies, the population is aging; that is, it is getting older as a whole. This can be seen looking at the median age over time, which has been increasing. Population ageing is important because an older population will have different demands, challenges and requirements than a younger population.

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What is a population projection? How are they created?

A population projection is a plausible progression of the population based on the current population base and assumptions regarding future demographic developments.  Generally demographers will produce a medium (or reference scenario), and high and low projections as bounds around it. The medium scenario represents the most likely case, and is the reference scenario over the projection period. The high scenario captures the possibility of higher growth in certain components and consequently higher population growth, whereas lower growth is projected under the low scenario.

There are many different methods to creating projections, but we use a component cohort survival method to project the future size and age/sex characteristics of the population. This method is essentially a demographic accounting system. It starts with the base‑year population distributed by single year of age and sex. Everyone is aged year‑by‑year, then fertility, mortality and migration assumptions are applied to the base population to project the number of births, deaths, and migrants occurring within the year. Finally, these three components (births, deaths and migration) are either added to or subtracted from the base population to obtain the projected population for the subsequent years. The total population is broken down by sex and single year of age up to the age group of 90 years and over.

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Do population projections predict the future? Why do we do them?

No, population projections do not predict the future. They provide a progression of what the future population could look like, given the current population structure, and components of growth inputs (migration, fertility and mortality). Population projections are done for many reasons, amongst which to provide a tool for planners and researchers to use.

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Why should we care so much about the Baby Boomers aging?

The baby boomers make up a large segment of Alberta’s population (in 2015, they accounted for 23%). Because they are such a large age cohort, with such a big impact on societal needs, they require attention. As the boomers age into retirement and old age, the baby boomers will place increasing demand on services, such as health care, pensions, and even cemetery space. Conversely, the labour force will fall as this cohort retires, and will either shrink or require increased net in migration to offset this. Furthermore, the aged dependency ratio (the proportion of people aged 65+ divided by the working age population (15-64 years)) will increase, increasing pressure on the working age population to support them.

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Is Alberta going through a baby boom?

Alberta has one of the highest rates of natural increase in the country. Our large population of young adults means that Alberta is likely to have large numbers of babies. Indeed, the number of babies born has been trending upwards since the late 1990’s. Despite this, Alberta is not going through a baby boom. A baby boom is characterized by a noticeable increase in the total fertility rate (or TFR). Alberta’s TFR has been relatively stable for the past twenty years. In 2015, the TFR was almost 1.8 children per women of childbearing age. In contrast, during the Baby Boom, the TFR hit a high of 4.4 in 1959 and 1960 before dropping.

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Glossary of Demographic Terms

See below for a glossary of demographic terms. Click on a letter to jump to that section of the list.

A    B    C    D    E    F    G    I    L    M    N    P    R    S    T    V    Y  

Demographic Terms - "A"

Aboriginal Peoples
Within Canada, Aboriginals include First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people. Also referred to as Indigenous peoples.

The time difference between date of birth and the current date, measured in completed years.

Age-Dependency Ratio
The number of people aged 65 or older who depend economically on the working age population (aged 15-64). This is becoming increasingly important as the baby boomers age into dependency, leaving smaller numbers of working aged persons to support them.

Age-Sex Structure
The number of people differentiated by age and sex within a population.

Age Specific Fertility Rate
Number of births per 1,000 women of a specific age within the childbearing age range, normally age 15 to 49 years.

Demographic Terms - "B"

Baby Boomer Period
Period following World War II (1946–1965), marked by an important increase in fertility rates and in the absolute number of births.

Baby Bust
Following the Baby Boom, there was a period of sharp decline in fertility, which is called the ‘Baby Bust’.

Balancing Equation
A basic demographic calculation used to see how a population changes with the impacts of natural increase and migration. The Balancing Equation is:   Population= Births – Deaths + Total Net Migration.

Base Population
The beginning population upon which population projections are based on. Base populations are generally taken from the last full census year population.

Demographic Terms - "C"

Census Division (CD)
Geographic areas which are smaller than provinces but larger than census subdivisions. There are currently 19 CDs in Alberta. These are created in cooperation between Statistics Canada and Alberta.

Census Family
A married or common-law couple with or without children of either spouse, or a single parent with at least one child living with them. The couple may be heterosexual or homosexual, and “children” can entail offspring or grandchildren whom live with at least one grandparent instead of the parent.

Census Metropolitan Area (CMA)
At least one or more adjacent municipalities centered on a large urban area with a minimum population of 100,000, wherein 50,000 or more people must live within the urban center. For inclusion, other municipalities necessarily have high levels of integration with the central urban area, which is captured by commuting flows. Once an area is designated as a CMA, it cannot lose that status.

Census of Population
An official count of the complete population, which usually contains age, sex, occupation, and other characteristics. The Canadian census occurs every five years, and captures the entire population of Canada on census day of that year. The census is important because it provides information on the entire Canadian population, which is then used to understand the how Canada is changing, and to support research and policy decisions.

Census Year
Census year runs from July 1st to June 30th. Annual population estimates are stated “As of July 1st, [of that year]”.

A group of people with the same group membership, such as all people born in 1980, or all people married between 1990-1995. Examining people based on cohorts allows demographers to view changes in that specific group over time, and to compare multiple cohorts at different life stages.

Components of Population Growth
Births, deaths and migration are components that alter the size of the total population and its composition by age and sex.

Demographic Terms - "D"

The scientific study of human populations. Demography applies population statistics to understand population changes, look at trends which occurred in the past, and project trends into the future.

Dependency Ratio
The ratio of people who are of dependent age (0-14 and 65 or older), divided by people in the working ages (15-64).

Demographic Terms - "E"

Canadian citizen or immigrant who left Canada to settle permanently in another country.

The act of leaving the country of residence to permanently settle in a different country.

Demographic Terms - "F"

The act of reproducing.

A forecast projects a logically derived population at a future date, taking into consideration past demographic trends (regarding fertility, mortality, and migration) and also current information. All forecasts are projections, but not all projections are forecasts.

Demographic Terms - "G"

A group which includes all people born during the same time period. For instance, the baby boomer generation includes all people born between 1946 to 1965.

Growth Rate
The change in a defined population from one period to another.

Demographic Terms - "I"

Person who has been permitted by immigration authorities to live in Canada permanently.

Permanently moving from one’s home country to a country one is not a native of.

Infant Mortality
The death of a child under one year of age.

Internal Migration
Migration within a country/province/area, depending on the required area boundaries.

International Migration
Migration that crosses national boundaries, where a person migrates from one country to a different one.

Interprovincial Migration
Movement from one province/territory to another resulting in a permanent change in residence. A person who takes up residence in another province is an out‑migrant with reference to the province of origin and an in‑migrant with reference to the province of destination.

Intraprovincial Migration
Movement within the province from one Census Division to another resulting in a permanent change in residence.

Demographic Terms - "L"

Life Expectancy
The age that a hypothetical new born can expect to live until. This varies by time and space.

Demographic Terms - "M"

Marital Status
The conjugal arrangements of a person; this includes single (never married persons or persons with a marriage annulment), married, widowed, divorced. The ‘married’ category includes common-law couples and people who are separated.

Median Age
Age “x”, such that exactly one half of the population is older than “x” and the other half is younger than “x”.

Someone who moves permanently from one location to another.

Permanent change of residence from one geographical unit to another

Deaths within a population.

Mortality Rate
The number of deaths per 1,000 individuals in a defined population for a particular time period.

Demographic Terms - "N"

Natural Increase
Population change resulting from only the births and deaths within that population. Natural increase can be positive or negative.

Net Migration
Difference between in-migration and out-migration for a given area and period of time.

Net International Migration
Equal to: immigrants – emigrants + returning emigrants – temporary emigrants + net non‑permanent residents

Net Interprovincial Migration
Difference between in‑migrants and out‑migrants for a given province or territory.

Net Intraprovincial Migration
The difference between in-migrants and out-migrants for a given region within a province or territory.

Net Non‑Permanent Residents
Variation in the number non‑permanent residents between two dates.

Net Temporary Emigrants
Variation in the number of temporary emigrants between two dates.

Net Undercoverage
Difference between the number of persons who were covered by the census but who were not enumerated (i.e. undercoverage) and the number of persons who were enumerated when they should not have been or who were enumerated more than once (i.e. overcoverage).

Non‑Permanent Residents
Persons from another country who had an employment authorization, a student authorization, or a Minister’s permit, or who were refugees claimant, and family members living with them.

Demographic Terms - "P"

Permanent Resident
A person who legally resides in Canada on a permanent basis as an immigrant or refugee, but is not yet a Canadian citizen.

The number of people living in a specific geographic area at a set time. Population usually refers to the usual residents of that area.

Population Aging
Over time, a population shift occurs where people age, resulting in a decrease in the number of people in the younger age groups and an increase in the number of people in the older age groups, such that the population as a whole grows older. This is demonstrated by the aging of the median age.

Population Density
The number of people living in a specific area.

Population Growth
Total change in the population of a given geographic unit in a given period, resulting from fertility (births), mortality (deaths) and migration. This can be positive growth (an increasing number of people) or negative growth (a decreasing number of people).

Population Momentum
The force of future growth within a population, given the current demographic characteristics of that population. For example, Alberta has a relatively young population. The large proportion of young adults in the population will have children, and these children will then have children, creating momentum for population growth, even without migration.

Population Projection
An estimate of a future population derived from calculations made on certain assumptions of fertility (births), mortality (deaths) and migration.

Population Pyramid
A chart which shows the distribution of a population by age and sex.

Demographic Terms - "R"

Replacement Level (Fertility)
Mean number of births per woman necessary to assure the long‑term replacement of a population for a given mortality level. Currently, the replacement level in Canada and most other developed countries is about 2.1 children per woman.

Reproductive Age
Women who are in their reproductive ages are capable of having children. In demography, the reproductive ages are said to be between 15-49, however women can and do reproduce at younger and older ages.

Returning Emigrants
Canadian citizens or landed immigrants who have emigrated from the country and subsequently returned to Canada to re‑establish a permanent residence.

Demographic Terms - "S"

Sex Ratio
The ratio of males to females in a population.

Shadow Population
Individuals who reside in one region on a temporary basis, while their primary residence is located somewhere else. They are enumerated by the census as residents of the jurisdictions where their primary residence is located.

Demographic Terms - "T"

Temporary Emigrant
Canadian citizen or immigrant who left Canada to settle temporarily in a foreign country.

Total Fertility Rate
The sum of age‑specific fertility rates during a given year. The TFR indicates the average number of children that a generation of women would have if, over the course of their reproductive life, they had fertility rates identical to those of the year considered.

Two‑Way Raking
An adjustment method (also known as the “Deming method”) where proportions are distributed to ensure that the age and sex of the census divisions equal the province’s total population.

Demographic Terms - "V"

Vital Statistics
Legally required reporting of life events, such as birth, death or marriage. These events are mandatory to register within Canada, and allow for the collection of very accurate data on the population.

Demographic Terms - "Y"

"Young" Population
A population where there are a disproportional number of “younger people”. Alberta is considered a “younger” population than the rest of Canada, because of high net interprovincial migration into Alberta by young people who then have children here.

Youth-Dependency Ratio
The number of youth aged 0-14 who depend economically on the working aged population (15-64).

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For more information on Alberta demographics (population), please contact:

Jennifer Hansen, Manager, Demography and Social Statistics
Office of Statistics and Information
Alberta Treasury Board and Finance
8th floor, Federal Building
9820 - 107 Street
Edmonton, Alberta T5K 1E7
Telephone: 780-427-8811
Fax: 780-426-3951
To be connected toll-free in Alberta, dial 310-0000.

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Page last updated:  October 4, 2017