By many measures, today’s seniors live longer, wealthier and healthier lives than seniors at any other time in history.
Consider the numbers. In 1921, life expectancy for Canadian men at birth was 58.8 years, for women, 60.6 years, according to Statistics Canada. Fifty years later, life expectancy for men had risen to 69.4 years, for women to 76.5 years. In 2017, life expectancy for men had reached 79 years, for women 83. By 2031, men can expect to reach 81.9 years, while women will hit 86.
These increases reflect several factors. They include improvements in medical technology and public health education, changed social norms about diet, exercise and consumption of alcohol and tobacco, the changing nature of employment towards a knowledge-based economy, and at least in the western world, decades of peace and prosperity following the global cataclysms of the first half of the 20th century.
These larger historical trends have helped today’s seniors accumulate unprecedented wealth. Born into a post-war economic boom buttressed by generous social spending, Canadians 65 and older have amassed wealth like no other group before them in the forms of real estate, stocks and various types of public and private pensions – things increasingly out of reach for their Generation X children and Millennial grandchildren in the face of modern economic conditions that eschew stable employment relations against the backdrop of shrinking public budgets, globalization, digitization, and increasingly automation.
According to the Financial Post, today’s senior is nine times richer than the typical Millennial, and seniors were the most likely group of Canadians to be debt-free. According to a 2017 Statistics Canada report, nearly three-quarters of Canadian seniors did not report any debt. Yes, poverty among seniors is growing, especially if they are women living on their own, but experts generally agree that future generations will find it difficult to match the economic accomplishments of today’s seniors.
This financial wealth – which continues to grow with growing life expectancy, as many seniors increasingly work past their retirement day – gives seniors considerable power in the marketplace, but also the means to pursue personal passions and activities.
Their influence can also be felt in other fields – key among them politics, where the sheer number of seniors have prompted some political scientists to speak of the coming grey power, with Canadians seniors (16.9 per cent of the Canadian population) now exceeding the number of children (16.3 per cent) for the first time in Canadian history, with no sign of reversal.
These trends also appear locally. According to the latest census, Saanich is home to 23,715 people 65 years and older – about 20.7 per cent of the total population. The number of children aged 19 and under? 21,070 – or about 18.4 per cent.
Saanich, like so many other Canadian communities, is trying to prepare itself for changes that may be difficult for any single organization to control and channel. As Saanich, along with the rest of Canada, ages in place, all segments of society, from private business to public agencies, from public places of higher learning to charitable organizations, will have to play their part.
This special guide of the Saanich News offers a contribution to this collective effort by surveying various seniors-related subjects. We hope it will simultaneously inspire and inform as we grapple with historical changes that will shape our lives for generations.