Canada is a land populated by tribes of cosmopolitan elites, urban digerati and ex-urban homesteaders. It's also a land of the aging and active, of South Asian society and of people who lunch at Tim's. This is the country, sliced up, labelled and profiled, according to a data company that believes where you live says a huge amount about who you are, how you think and what you do.
The labels may sound glib, but together they form a segmentation system that functions like a demographic decoder ring for Canadian neighbourhoods. It takes each of the roughly 750,000 six-digit postal codes in Canada, assesses the households by age, ethnicity, education and net worth, and then assigns the postcode (usually just two blocks of one side of a city street) one of 68 demographic profiles. These 68 profiles form a snapshot of the way the Canadian population, in aggregate, sorts itself geographically.
"The truth is most people move into a neighbourhood where there are people like themselves or people they want to be. In every neighbourhood there's exceptions to the rule, but in all the work I've done for the past 35 years, people are usually very much like their neighbourhood," said Jan Kestle, president of Environics Analytics, whose company is releasing a rebuilt segmentation system next week.
This kind of analysis is used by governments and businesses to target customers or tailor messages. If you've ever wondered why certain companies bombard your home with flyers, or why businesses set up shop in some areas and not others, segmentation, as it's known, may have played a role.
The 68 profiles that make up Canada are ranked by socioeconomic status, which is measured by a mix of income, education and wealth variables. At the top nationally is what they call the "cosmopolitan elite," with household incomes more than five times the national average, and at the bottom are "low-rise renters," a mix of poor, young singles and single parents.
The profiles reflect many of the big demographic trends shaping the country, such as the rise of the millennial generation, the aging of the baby boomers and the arrival of new immigrant populations. In nearly a third of the profiles, the majority of households are occupied by people 55 or older, for example, and roughly a quarter are significantly populated by immigrants. Ethnic clusters, once a phenomenon limited to Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, have spread to cities in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
There's "boomerang city," where relatively well-off, older parents have adult children living at home, and "lunch at Tim's," which describes downscale, singles and families living in smaller cities. There's also "diversity heights," described as suburban, upscale and ethnic, and "trucks and trades," filled with oil and gas workers who are described as suburban, younger and relatively well off. Each of the groups is meant to constitute roughly 2 per cent of the population. The group profiles are also linked to values surveys and lifestyle and consumer data to give a more complete picture of what shapes their views, from recreation habits such as yoga, jogging or watching the CFL, to hobbies such as fishing or going to art galleries.
To see which category your post code puts you in, check out Environics Analytics' Prizm5 lifestyle lookup tool.
Some of the tools they use to derive their profiles include data from tax filers as well as credit checking firms, which hold data on the credit-worthiness of households that's described as "privacy friendly." To measure ethnicity, they have data from Statistics Canada's National Household Survey, and they supplement it with software that can analyze first and last names from a phone book to determine a person's ethnic background.
"What I like about the segmentation system is that it allows you to look at neighbourhoods as a whole," said Doug Norris, chief demographer at Environics Analytics. "One of the most fascinating aspects for me is to see how the cultural dimension of society is changing over time. We're getting more and more diverse … whether it's by age or ethnicity or education."
By one measure, the most diverse city in Canada is not Toronto, but Ottawa-Gatineau. There, 53 of the 68 profiles are represented, with at least 1,000 households in each segment. Montreal is second by that measure, with 48, and Toronto and Vancouver third and fourth with 45 and 43. The least diverse population centres by that same measure are Saguenay in Quebec, with 12 segments, followed by Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivières, and then Saint John, Brantford, Ont., and Peterborough, Ont.
A sample of population profiles:
Urban digerati: They are young, highly educated and tech-savvy. Concentrated in Toronto and Montreal, they tend to live in high-rises, are ethnically mixed and have six-figure incomes on average. They sleep with their phones and enjoy Pilates and microbrews.
Trucks and trades: Skilled trades and blue-collar people, concentrated in Alberta and the prairies in the oil and gas industry. Not highly educated but highly skilled at work. They tend to have younger children and high rates of owning hot tubs and boats.
Lunch at Tim's: They are more likely to be single or divorced, they have low education levels and low income, but own their homes, often in smaller cities. They enjoy fishing, country music and gambling.
Grads and pads: Young, single, urban dwellers living near universities. These educated millennials commute by bike or on foot. They like organic food, jogging, bars and art galleries.
South Asian Society: A blend of Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims – mostly living in Toronto and Vancouver. They are middle-aged, middle income, are seven times more likely to live in a multigenerational home. They tend to work in manufacturing, the trades, sales and service, and are focused on their children's education.