Hot! Aging ‘Silver tsunami’ delayed in Canada

TheStar.com – Living/healthzone.ca/health/By the Numbers
December 31, 2010.   Susan Pigg, Living Reporter

Demographer David Foot started fielding calls from reporters a few weeks ago, wondering what changes to expect when the first of Canada’s baby boomers turns 65 this year.

Almost none, he told them.

That’s because Canada’s boom started a year later than in the United States, where the first of that country’s 78 million post-war babies are about to become senior citizens. Here they won’t hit 65 for at least another year.

“I realize this is a battle I’m never going to win, but it’s always a fun beginning to the conversation,” says Foot, author of the best-sellingBoom Bust & Echo.

Robert Brown, 61, a former University of Waterloo math professor, used to argue the same thing at social gatherings — he maintains Canada’s baby boom didn’t take off until 1951, which would make the first boomers just 60 next year — but grew tired of being the lone voice at the bar.

“I’ve just stopped talking about it at cocktail parties because everybody thinks I’m wrong,” he says with a laugh. “I think we’ve imported a lot of our street knowledge about the baby boom from the U.S. and they got started a little earlier than we did.”

That’s not to say these two number crunchers are in denial — the so-called “silver tsunami” is indeed headed our way and could swamp our health-care and pension systems — but we’re unlikely to feel the major impact of Canada’s roughly 10 million boomers for a few years yet.

“Turning 65 will be a milestone, but a non-event, for boomers,” says Foot, largely because life expectancy has shot up more than a decade during the boomer’s lifetime, to 78 for men and 83 for women. “At 65, you’ve now got about 17 years ahead of you, so people aren’t going to quit work, sit on their rear ends and collect a pension.”

In fact, boomers have already begun their exodus from the workplace, says Foot, citing statistics that show the average age of retirement is now 62. But for boomers the “R” word now often includes consulting, working part-time or starting up new businesses.

Foot’s 1996 book was among the first to chronicle how aging baby boomers will reshape work, leisure, health care and communities. His predictions have been remarkably accurate, from the surge in diabetes, arthritis and high blood pressure as boomers hit their 50s and 60s, to the upswing in gardening, golf and exercise. (A heads-up for boomers: Their 80s, predicts Foot, a retired University of Toronto professor who refuses to disclose his age, will be about Alzheimer’s and dementia; their 90s will be about falls and pneumonia.)

Brown is an actuary who began studying baby boomers in earnest in 1982, mainly to assess their potential impact on the workforce and pension system, and was surprised to discover that the baby boom here lags that in the States.

Foot blames that on delays in bringing our WWII troops home from Europe. But Brown says even when they hit shore, births just edged up slightly. They didn’t really boom, until 1952, when the economy was finally sailing along. Then births hit more than 400,000 a year.

“David (Foot) has done very well, so I’m not going to argue that he’s wrong,” Brown says with a slight chuckle, “but the baby boom had nothing to do with a bunch of frisky soldiers coming home from Europe.”

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Live births in Canada

1945: 300,587

1946: 343,504

1947: 372,589

1948: 359,860

1949: 367,092

1950: 372,009

1951: 381,092

1952: 403,559

1953: 417,884

1954: 436,198

1955: 442,937

Source: Statistics Canada

Live births in the United States

1945: 2,858,000

1946: 3,411,000

1947: 3,817,000

1948: 3,637,000

1949: 3,649,000

1950: 3,632,000

1951: 3,823,000

1952: 3,913,000

1953: 3,965,000

1954: 4,078,000

1955: 4,097,000

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

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