Discussion Paper no. 00-1


This paper considers the effect of immigration on the size and demographic structure of Canada. Following a brief overview of the history of immigration in this country, we evaluate the effects of migration on population growth, age composition and geographic distribution. Immigration has a very limited impact on the age structure, and thus has very limited value as a tool to decrease the dependency ratio. However, given that fertility has stabilized well below the replacement rate for the past twenty years, immigration will play an increasingly important role in population growth and can be an effective tool to avoid population decline. However, because the vast majority of immigrants move to the largest cities, and below-replacement fertility rates are a country-wide phenomenon, immigration will do little to ameliorate population decline in all but the very largest metropolitan areas.

Demographic arguments alone cannot be used to justify the level of Canadian immigration and there is nothing magical about the orientation to maintain population growth or avoid population decline. While one can argue that significant declines or particularly high growth may be problematic, it is not clear where the optimum may lie and this probably changes over time.