A Simon Fraser University student wears a First Nations Coast Salish woven cedar hat as she and other students wait to receive their degrees during the fall convocation ceremony at the university in Burnaby, B.C., on Friday October 11, 2013. Canadians are putting in more effort in the classroom, additional time on the job and extra teeth-gnashing minutes on the road getting to and from work, Statistics Canada says in the latest - and last - batch of numbers from the 2016 census.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A Simon Fraser University student wears a First Nations Coast Salish woven cedar hat as she and other students wait to receive their degrees during the fall convocation ceremony at the university in Burnaby, B.C., on Friday October 11, 2013. Canadians are putting in more effort in the classroom, additional time on the job and extra teeth-gnashing minutes on the road getting to and from work, Statistics Canada says in the latest - and last - batch of numbers from the 2016 census.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Education rates, commute times and time at work all growing, census shows

OTTAWA — Canadians are putting in more effort in the classroom, additional time on the job and extra teeth-gnashing minutes on the road getting to and from work, Statistics Canada says in the latest — and last — batch of numbers from the 2016 census.

The data released Wednesday show more than half of Canada’s core working population — those aged 25 to 64 — have earned degrees or diplomas from a college or university, the highest rate among comparable OECD countries, a group that includes the United States.

When it comes to educational laurels, women appear to be closing the gap with men: they accounted for half of all master’s degrees in 2016, and nearly half of all earned doctorates among younger Canadians aged 25 to 34.

The wage gap, however, persists. In Saskatchewan, for instance, a male with an apprenticeship certificate enjoyed a median income of $86,059, roughly $13,000 more than a female with a university degree.

“Even though women are more highly educated, they don’t earn more. Their workforce participation rate isn’t greater. So education is clearly not the whole story,” said Laura Wright, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Saskatchewan.

One-fifth of seniors over 65 remained in the workforce in 2016, twice the rate of 1996, while median income for full-time workers increased 30 per cent over the last decade. At the other end of the age spectrum, the employment rate for Canadians 15 to 24 dropped by almost six percentage points compared with 2006.

And another from the no-kidding file: getting to work isn’t getting any faster. The “journey to work” inched higher across Canada last year, even with more Canadians than ever opting to use public transit for their daily commute.

Wednesday’s release put the cherry on the statistical sundae Statistics Canada has been building since February, illustrating how life has evolved since 2011 for Canada’s 35.15 million people.

There are more people over 65 than under 15 in a historic grey shift immigrants are driving population and workforce growth there are more Indigenous Peoples than ever, and on average they’re younger than the rest of Canada and young Canadians are living at home longer.

So where do we go from here?

The percentage of the population over 65 is expected to grow from 16.9 per cent to 23 per cent by 2031, while the proportion of children under age 15 flatlines and the ranks of the working-age population shrink.

Older Canadians are lingering longer in the workforce, some because they can, others because they must.

Wednesday’s numbers show a 31 per cent spike in the number of health workers since 2006 — a good thing, given the aging baby boomers, said Julien Picault, a senior economics instructor at University of British Columbia.

“It’s not a crucial point, I think, at this stage, but it’s crucial that we start actually adapting.”

Replacing retiring workers will depend on immigrants, who are driving population growth in the face of low fertility rates. The proportion of immigrants in the population could reach 30 per cent by 2036, up from the 21.9 per cent recorded in 2016.

Those coming to Canada are highly educated — they have rates of post-secondary education more than double their Canadian-born counterparts — and already comprise half or nearly half the labour force in major centres like Toronto and Vancouver.

Michael Haan, a sociology professor at Western University in London, Ont., said it’s high time Ottawa put a plan in place to steer new Canadians towards population-starved rural communities.

“You can’t have a national immigration policy that stands on its own, because what is going to happen is that future immigrant flows are likely to follow the pathways of previous immigrant flows,” Haan said.

As always, the census offers only a snapshot in time, and projections come with a caveat: public policy, the economy and changing social norms, among other factors, could always cause a course correction.

Shifting public and political attitudes towards immigration could impact population estimates, said Haan. North American trade talks could change the face of the labour market. And the advent of online retailing could bring seismic change for the 626,775 people working in retail sales last year, the most common occupation recorded by the census.

Governments could boost the value of child benefits to encourage families to get bigger. Fertility rates could go up if more dads take parental leave, relieving moms of some of the burden of balancing work and family, Wright said.

Whatever happens, it all begins and ends — much as the 2016 census did — with the transformative power of Canada’s aging baby boomers.

“Population aging is the crux of the change,” Wright said. “It drives a lot of other changes.”

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