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Population Characteristics, Demographic Trends

population loss, birth index, fertility rate, European descent, death rate

Canada is a nation of people who came from somewhere else. All but the indigenous people arrived within the past 400 years, most within the past few generations. For that reason most Canadians still feel some attachment to their old homelands. The majority of the population is of European descent, but the proportion of Asians is increasing. About half of all immigrants in the decade from 1981 to 1991 came from Asia, and Chinese is the fastest-growing mother tongue in Canada. As ethnic groups intermarry, however, ethnic identities are becoming more blurred; 29 percent of Canadians report more than one ethnic origin. Indigenous peoples make up about 3 percent and blacks about 2 percent of the population.

Immigration is important to maintaining Canada’s population. The current childbearing generation has smaller families than earlier generations: The fertility rate (average number of children born per woman) is 1.6, less than the population replacement rate of 2.1. At the same time, older people are living longer, so that the average age of the population is higher. In 2002 Canada’s rate of natural increase was 0.36 percent, resulting from a birth rate of 11.1 per 1,000 persons and a death rate of 7.5 per 1,000. There is a downward trend in the birth index—in 1981 it was 15.3—and the likely end result will be zero growth or population loss. For this reason the Canadian government decided in the 1980s to compensate for the low birth rate by allowing more immigration.

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