Regional Population Projections for Newfoundland and Labrador, 2016-2036

Lay Summary 

In 2015, Newfoundland and Labrador had the most rapidly aging population in the country – which when combined with high rates of youth out-migration, declining birth rates, and an increasing number of people moving from rural parts of the province to more urban centres, means that the province is facing an unprecedented population challenge. The need to plan for these changes and develop strategies to adjust and adapt to the changes is paramount.

Regional Population Projections for Newfoundland and Labrador report focuses on the regions in NL for the period of 2016-2036, but includes estimates for the province as a whole. These projections provide a basis for further research into the implications of demographic change in the province. Results from three projection models, The Natural Survival Model (NS), the Historical (Cyclic) Survival Model (HS), and the Replacement Survival Model (RS), are presented.

The NS, HS and RS models help provide insight to how population will change in terms of both the total number of people living in a region as well as the resulting age structure. The NS model indicates the capacity of a region to grow by natural replacement by accounting for regional fertility and death rates, though does not consider migration. This model also identifies regions whose age structure combined with its fertility and death rates can or cannot maintain their populations without in-migration.

The HS model results provide insight into the age structure of populations if past migration trends continue into the future. For some regions this may be likely, given that over multiple census periods there has been very little, if any, in-migration and significant out-migration of younger cohorts without replacement. The result, a decreasing and rapidly aging population, is particularly significant in those regions that will decline even where a significant labour force replacement factor is built in as indicated in the results from the RS model.

Workforce replacement requires that those not previously in the workforce join it, that others remain in the region rather than leave, and/or there is in-migration. Given the economic base of many of the island’s regions, the required replacement success levels necessary to maintain the workforce population, as forecast in the RS model scenarios, will be difficult to achieve. The overall conclusion is that the aging rand in the province as a whole suggests that there are underlying fertility and migration issues that will prevent maintaining or growing the base population in the long term.

For the province as a whole the NL model indicates that deaths would exceed births over the projection period and excluding migration, there is little or no internal propensity for growth. When migration trends are factored in the HS model outcomes are similar to those from the NS model – the overall population is projected to decline by nearly 8% between 2016 and 2036 under the medium scenario. Even a replacement of 70% of the current labour force would not be sufficient to maintain the current overall workforce population to 2036. The patter of low birth rates, high out-migration, an aging population and overall population decrease is common to all regions in the province with the exceptions of the northeast Avalon and central Labrador.

The results present a challenging picture for most regions in the province. Most regional populations are projected to continue to decline and age over the 2016-2036 timeframe. For most regions birth rates are low and outmigration of the young and those females in their childbearing years mean that regional populations are not being reproduced. Out-migration, particularly of the young and those in the labour force, together with the relative immobility of older members of the communities and their increasing longevity, is reflected in declining numbers and aging regional populations. This situation is not new, for the last 20 years or more the demographic structure of the province has shifted from a rapid growth model, in which the population was sustained through natural replacement, to a no-growth model in which population stability or growth can only be achieved through in-migration. This is particularly true for rural NL where many of the regions have been in decline or multiple census periods.  

Among the issues arising are question relating to labour markets – how will future demands for labour be met given a shrinking population and aging labour supply? Similarly, changes in the number, age and geography of the population has implications on the demand for public, private and non-government sector services. What services, what levels of demands will be required and in which locations? IN addition there are the problems of the cost and delivery of services in the current period of significant economic constraints. Here there are social as well as economic considerations to weigh and priorities to determine. How those decision and effects are managed will require a strong, but sensitive government working with those affected. 

The demographic changes in the province are not new and the issues that arise from those changes not surprising. The purpose of this study is to try and ensure that the current and projected demographic situation is clearly understood so that its implications can be recognized, more fully debated and appropriate actions considered.

The report, found at http://www.mun.ca/harriscentre/PopulationProject/, is thus intended as a source of information about the current and projected demographic situation and a baseline for further study about its implications.

Departments 
Geography
The Leslie Harris Centre of Regional Policy and Development
Communities 
St. John's
Locations 
Newfoundland and Labrador
Themes 
Population
Labour and Employment
Start date 
1 Jan 2016
End date 
30 Sep 2017