Economic Development News & Insight


The Higher ED Blog – Aging in (a New) Place: Retirement Migration in Canada

Omar Abouhassan / November 7, 2016

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The Higher ED Blog – Aging in (a New) Place: Retirement Migration in Canada


It’s no secret. Canada’s population is rapidly aging. Beginning in 2011, the first age-cohort of Canada’s baby boomer generation reached the traditional retirement age of 65. By the end of 2030, the last baby boomer age-cohort will have reached this milestone. Over this 20 year period, the senior population will grow an astounding 84.5% according to Statistic Canada’s most conservative population projection. For policymakers, there are concerns that retiring baby boomers will bring on labour shortages, inadequate pension financing, and healthcare system strains.

Little attention is paid to the potential economic opportunities associated with an aging population. With baby boomers being the largest and most affluent generation in Canada’s history, retirement communities are eagerly awaiting this demographic shift. One such community is British Columbia’s Qualicum Beach. With a moderate climate, a picturesque natural landscape, a range of cultural and natural amenities, the community is a prime retirement destination. Other rural and mid-sized urban centers across Canada are looking to retirement attraction strategies as a source for economic development. Unfortunately, research on retirement communities and elderly migration is underdeveloped in Canada.

My research aimed to answer a few basic questions on retirement migration. How mobile are elderly Canadians in comparison to the remainder of the population? Which communities struggle and which communities excel in attracting and retaining retired migrants? In terms of demographic characteristics, do retired migrants differ from their counterparts that choose to age in place? Modelling my methods closely after an existing study and replicating elements of the study, I aimed to satisfy these questions using 2011 Census micro-data.

Though many studies simply use old-age to define a retired person, more rigorous characteristics were used to define a retired person in order to prevent the inclusion of elderly migrants that moved for employment opportunities. In the study, a retired person was defined as someone who was 60 years of age or older, received retirement income, was not a member of the labour force, and had not worked for an entire year. In order to be considered a migrant, a person must have travelled between different Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs) or Census Agglomerations (CAs) over the 2006 to 2011 Census period. Rural Canadians, those not residing in a CMA or CA, were pooled together in each province to form proxy rural regions. Those migrating from a provincial rural region to a CMA, CA, or another provincial rural region were also considered migrants.

Retired Canadians unlikely to move

Between 2006 and 2011, a total of 215,775 retired persons migrated within Canada. In comparison to other age cohorts, the elderly are not very mobile. Between the 2005 and 2011 Census period, only 4.9% of Canadians aged 60 or older were migrants (Figure 1). It was found that as elderly Canadians aged their mobility declined and continued to decline until they reached the 90 years and over age group. Of elderly retired migrants, 24% moved between provinces and 76% moved within the same province.

Figure 1: Migration rate by age



Coastal provinces and rural Ontario gain the most

Net-migration (number of in-migrants – number of out-migrants) was used to assess a region’s ability to attract and retain elderly migrants. For the period in question, British Columbia held its long-standing title as Canada’s top retirement destination at the provincial level (Table 1). As a whole, the Maritimes also performed well due to the region’s natural amenities and ability to attract return migrants. Conversely, Quebec, the Prairie Provinces and Alberta in particular experienced a net-negative flow of retired migrants.

Table 1: Net migrants by province


At the regional level (Tables 2 and 3), rural Ontario was able to attract the largest number of net-migrants, which is not especially surprising given its established retirement destinations like Elliot Lake and a number of large in-province urban centers acting as donors,. Communities in British Columbia and Quebec were also well-represented among the top 10 communities. Canada’s largest urban centers were all in the bottom 10, experiencing an exodus of retired migrants.

Table 2: Top 10 regions by net migration


Table 3:  Bottom 10 regions by net migration


Interestingly, the total number of in-migrants for the bottom 10 regions (48,355) is greater than the total number of in-migrants for the top 10 (41,795). It is also interesting that there are significant differences between migrants who choose popular destinations and those who choose the opposite. Compared to the migrants to the top 10 regions, migrants to the bottom 10 regions are more likely to be older, widowed, and report difficulty in conducting everyday activities. Migrants to the bottom 10 regions are also more likely to be moving in with, or closer to, their children. Further, some of these in-migrants move from popular retirement destinations back to their community of origin as they reach the latter years of retirement.

Advice for economic developers

In pursuing retirement attraction strategies, economic development bodies and local real estate organizations across Canada have launched or supported place-based marketing campaigns. Since marketing campaigns are most effective where the message is specifically tailored to the target audience, I also looked at data on the demographic characteristics of elderly migrants.

Compared to elderly Canadians that aged in place during the 2006 – 2011 Census period, white Canadians, divorced Canadians, and those with a post-secondary education were found to be over represented as migrants.

There is a common perception that elderly migrants are affluent in comparison to those that age in place. However, it was determined that the relatively small difference in average income between migrants and stayers was statistically insignificant. Yet, retirement attraction strategies can still be a sensible source of economic development. Past studies have consistently proven that in-migrating retirees are a catalyst for job creation in health care, real estate, finance, and retail.

In developing retirement attraction strategies, place-based marketing campaigns should be aware of these differences, while focusing their efforts on in-province migrants and the newly retired in Canada’s largest cities. It is also beneficial to consult with local healthcare professionals in order to ensure that existing healthcare infrastructure can cope with intentionally aging the population.

For retired migrants, a migration decision is accompanied with a housing decision. Economic developers should also work with urban planners to determine whether there is an adequate stock of housing to meet demand brought on by in-migrating retirees. Many migrants will seek to downsize in order to finance their retirement. Consequently, the development of small single-detached homes, semi-detached homes, and condominiums can also aid in attracting prospective migrants.

This research was made possible due to support from the University of Waterloo’s Economic Development graduate program, talented data analysts at the University of Windsor, and Statistics Canada.

About the author

Omar Abouhassan is a student at the University of Waterloo’s Local Economic Development graduate program. His research focuses on retirement migration, housing, urban agriculture, and economic development incentives. In his spare time, he volunteers with the Downtown Windsor Community Collaborative, a community development organization.

About the series

Higher ED: Insights for the Next Economy is a platform for students, guest speakers, staff and faculty of the University of Waterloo’s professional and graduate economic development programs to share knowledge with the field at large. The series takes works destined for an academic audience and reworks them into a fresh, easy-to-digest blog article.

Established in 1987, the Master of Economic Development and Innovation (MEDI) is one of the only graduate programs in Canada focused exclusively on economic development. Students learn economic development theory and practice, and are exposed to leading edge knowledge, tools, and approaches to address contemporary challenges in cities and communities across Canada and internationally.

The Economic Development Program is a nationally-accredited provider of professional training. It delivers certification programs and seminars that offer a deep understanding of the Canadian context in a convenient block format. Peer learning is combined with informative lectures and practical case studies to provide dynamic instruction that is beneficial for junior and senior-level practitioners.


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