Hope faces the demographic challenge of an aging population.

Hope faces the demographic challenge of an aging population.

Hope faces demographic challenge of an aging population

Hope's median age has increased from 42.7 to 50.2 from 2001 to 2011.

On May 3, Statistics Canada will release its next set of 2016 census data, on the topic of age and sex.

Age data serves as a basis for predicting a municipality’s economy, as University of the Fraser Valley associate professor of geography and environment John Belec explains.

Using data from the 2001 to 2011 census data, Belec noticed a decline from the zero to four age group, and an increase in the 65+ age group, resulting in a median age shift from 42.7 to 50.2.

“I’m sure the 2016 data will show that it’s [going] to get higher,” said Belec. “These trends with population — they tend to be consistent over time and unless there was a major change in the community — for example, the arrival of a new, major employer.”

New data from the census showed that the population of Hope has increased from 5,969 to 6,181. The 3.6 per cent increase is beneficial for Hope’s economy as it marks an enlarging market for businesses.

Belec noted that some communities have tried to attract retirees to live there in order to stop the population from shrinking.

“If I were a member of the Chamber of Commerce in Hope, then at least I would think that businesses wouldn’t close because there weren’t enough consumers,” said Belec. “Retirees do need to buy goods and services, so they tend to find that the retail sector is supported.”

However, increasing population by attracting retirees is not the most ideal situation for a town’s economy. Belec explained that retirees tend to make a fraction of what they made when employed.

“Your individual spending power declines and if you multiply that by the number of people that are retired — which is growing as a base in Hope compared to other communities — then that implies that the spending potential is also declining,” said Belec.

Further afield, Hope has more demographic challenges facing it.

Recent data about international migration released by Statistics Canada showed that immigrants tend to comprise a larger proportion of Canadian population increase, as natural increase in population shrinks. The challenge here is that immigrants tend to live in cities, rather than small towns.

“The implication of that is that small communities are going to have an even tougher time growing because the trend is for international migrants to go to the biggest of Canadian cities,” said Belec.

Belec names Vancouver, Toronto and Abbotsford-Mission, where Belec is based in, as examples.

“For us, here, results in a pretty high growth rate,” said Belec. “Larger cities tend to have the support institutions that you might not find in a small town.”

Belec named cultural institutions and language support as attractions of living in larger places.

Belec also agreed that university graduates from small towns tend not to return “unless there are jobs.”

A decline in the zero to four age group also has implications for sustaining schools.