Canadians may be aging, but there's no need for panic, researchers say.
Nearly a quarter of Canadians will be seniors by 2036, Statistics Canada reported Wednesday. While this is almost double the 13.9 per cent of the population that seniors currently represent, there is no reason to assume they will become a burden on the country's systems, some experts say.
In February, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page released a report warning that elderly benefits and health-care costs associated with aging will require Ottawa to hike taxes or cut spending by at least $20-billion over the coming decade.
But some demographers say that much of the concern is inflated.
"There's no need to panic," said Susan McDaniel, Prentice research chair in global population at the University of Lethbridge. "Some of the mistake is that people, including policy people, see people who are 85 needing health care now, therefore thinking that people 20 years from now will need the same thing. But people who are 85 now were born in a time when smoking was chic, they sometimes went through the Depression - they're an entirely different person."
The Canadian Institute for Health Information released a report last year detailing the cost of different age groups to the health-care system. The average spending for a person between age one and 64 was less than $3,809 a year, compared with $17,469 for a person over 80. But these numbers reflect the elderly today, said Ms. McDaniel, and are not indicative of the lifestyles of baby boomers and those who will be entering retirement in 2036.
Siloni Waraich, a corporate communications manager, is 36, but will be approaching retirement by 2036.
"I think every generation goes through the 'We'll definitely not be like our parents,' " she said. "But I honestly believe that, because we're going to be a lot more active and healthier at a later age."
Not only are the future elderly not going to be a drain on the system, they also will be contributing, productive members of the economy, said Monica Boyd, professor of sociology at the University of Toronto.
Many elderly people are choosing not to retire right away, she said, and many are able to work until they're much older as jobs move from labour-based to technology-based.
Even many of today's elderly citizens are living lifestyles completely unlike those of previous generations. Connie Daxon, 86, lives in her own condo in Toronto, volunteers regularly, and walks daily to nearby Bloor West Village. "I go out all the time," she said. "I walk, I jump on buses - the same sort of thing I've always done."
John Cravit, vice-president of Zoomer Media, a media company aimed at the over 50 population, calls those like Ms. Daxon "the new old," saying they're a group insistent on self-reliance.
Those who are 65 now, he said, have a 50-per-cent chance of living to the age of 90. Because of this, Mr. Cravit said, "You're not going to be sitting passively on the sideline, waiting for crumbs from an active society."Report Typo/Error