Members of the baby boom generation are now between their mid-30s and mid-50s. In consequence, Canada today is enjoying a demographic dividend: an unusually high proportion of the population is in its most productive ages. That will change: in another 30 years the large boom generation will be in "old age". There are now four in the labour force for every person 65 and older. In another three decades (with present trends) there will be fewer than two. That the population will be much older is certain.
Such bald statements of the demographic facts, of the fundamental and unprecedented changes that are in store, immediately raise questions about implications. Prominent among these is whether social programs designed to provide for the well-being of older people when they were fewer can be sustained as the numbers swell. Will the burden on the population of working age be so great that the social contract will have to be rewritten? Will access to health care and income support in old age no longer be available? What are the implications for the family, for intergenerational relations and the well-being and functioning of society?
The situation continues to evolve. Even in the few years since our original program of research commenced fertility has declined further, to new record low levels, and life expectancy has increased further, to new record high levels. At the same time people are typically in better health at each age than they were in decades past. There is also increasing awareness of the critical role to be played by immigration, which will account for virtually all growth in both the population and labour force for the foreseeable future. Such continuing developments have implications for individuals, their families, the society in which they live, and the economy. The implications are sometimes subtle and certainly not fully understood. They are important for the debate about our health care system, an area in which there is much misinformation, and for other issues of public policy. The challenges that face aging societies remain worthy subjects of scholarly investigation. Identification of the legitimate concerns associated with future aging is an essential precondition to effective policy design.
The issues are many and diverse, covering virtually all aspects of society and the economy. Thus a wide range of scholarly approaches involving both basic and policy-relevant research is appropriate. The new program of research will include extensive analysis of important and newly available survey data, with international comparisons to allow the Canadian situation to be seen in a broader context. Newly available survey data, including especially those available through the Statistics Canada Research Data Centres, have opened fresh horizons, making it possible now to address new topics of importance for understanding the situation in which people find themselves and for informing policy. The analysis will look towards the future: How are society and the economy likely to evolve as the population ages? What could be done to cope with the effects of aging?
SEDAP-II has 28 new co-investigators, of whom 11 were associated with SEDAP-I in other capacities, most as postdoctoral fellows or graduate students. New collaborations in Canada and abroad have been established that enrich the research agenda and capacity. The program will involve more than 50 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows over a period of five years. It is concerned with how population aging will affect the labour force and the economy, with differences across ethnic groups, with internal and external migration patterns, with the viability of pension plans, residential choice, marital transitions, health, retirement, standards of living, and a range of other topics that will help to inform us about what lies ahead.
The major funding for SEDAP-II has been provided by SSRHC, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Under the terms of its Major Collaborative Research Initiative competition, SSHRC has awarded $2.498 million in support of this program of research over a five-year period, starting January 1, 2005.
Additional financial support has been provided by the following universities: McMaster, Toronto, Queen's, Waterloo, York, Carleton, Memorial, Calgary, and Victoria.
The following institutions have also provided financial support: Statistics Canada, Social Development Canada, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, SFI (the Danish National Institute for Social Research), IZA (the Institute for the Study of Labor, Germany), and CIHI (the Canadian Institute for Health Information).
In total, $5.2 million has been made available in support of this work.