Factors in Population Growth

The key factors in population change are natural increase (the number of births minus the number of deaths), net migration, and the interplay between these elements. These factors are in turn driven by fertility rates, the age structure of the population, mortality rates, life expectancy, and rates of in- and out-migration.

Natural Increase  chart 2

Fertility Rates Declining :Fertility rates in PEI have consistently been above the regional and national average, exceeded only by the Prairie provinces during the last several decades.   During the 1990s, however, PEI’s fertility rate and its level of births have fallen substantially, mirroring more closely the trends of the rest of the region and the country. It is notable that PEI had 47% fewer births in 1998 than in the peak year of 1963, despite a population increase of 26%.

Deaths Increasing Slightly : Death rates are a function of two factors: the number of people in each age grouping, and the life expectancy for those age groupings. Life expectancy and death rates in PEI are very similar to the national average, and have been far more stable over the years than the birth rate. 

Slowing natural Increase
: Since the 1920s, there has been a net increase in population when looking at cumulative birth and death rate data.  Key factors to note  are the very high levels of births during the middle decades of the century, the decline since then, the slight increase in deaths, and the resulting decline in the net natural increase in population —down from a peak of over 17,000 during the 1950s to less than 6,000 so far in the 1990s. Moreover, the influence of net increase on population growth can be expected to decline further as fertility rates continue to fall and death rates continue to increase. At some point, later than in many other industrialized societies, deaths are expected to outnumber births in PEI, resulting in population decline unless compensated for by net in-migration. 


Migration  charts 3 & 4

 Population growth rates are also influenced by the rates of in-migration and out migration. Throughout much of PEI’s history, migration has played the dominant role in shaping its population, throughout the inflows of the 1800s and the outflows of the early 1900s. In recent decades, migration has played a smaller role in population growth; however, it has had significant impacts on the cultural and demographic characteristics of the population. Now and in the future, with the declining and eventually negative effects of natural increase described above, migration patterns can be expected to play a growing role in determining population and demographic trends. Until the 1970s, PEI experienced substantial net out- migration. With the advent of the Comprehensive Development Plan, a sustained period of net in- migration took place throughout much of the 1970s. In the late 1970s, PEI had net out-migration as a number of Islanders migrated to Western Canada, drawn by the energy boom. The mid-1980s witnessed a slight but consistent in-migration as a strong Island economy compared to the West reversed the previous flow of migrants to Ontario and the West. The move of the federal Department of Veterans Affairs head office from Ottawa to Charlottetown also contributed population to PEI. The closure of the Summerside air base was a factor in a large net out-migration in the early 1990s, followed by net in-migration, drawn by strong employment growth due in part to construction of the Confederation Bridge. With bridge completion, PEI saw net out- migration of over 800 people.  On the whole, however, the fluctuations in migration have narrowed in the past two decades, resulting in smaller net effects for PEI. These migration patterns have, however, had substantial effects on the make-up of PEI’s population at home and its population of “Islanders away.” According to the 1996 census, almost 47,500 people born in PEI are now living in other provinces of Canada, while 24,600 people who are Islanders today were born in other provinces of Canada. 

International Migration : Immigration from other countries has played a much smaller role in Prince Edward Island’s recent history than in most other Canadian provinces. Indeed, in the 1960s, PEI experienced a significant loss of population to other countries. During the past three decades, however, PEI has benefited from a modest but steady gain of population from other countries, as shown in Chart 10, to the left. In addition to increasing PEI’s population, these international in-migrants also enrich PEI's society by contributing cultural diversity and linkages around the globe. In  1996, PEI had just under 4,400 residents, or 3.3% of its total, who had emigrated from other countries to PEI, with  the majority coming from the U.S., the U.K, and Northern and Western Europe. These international in-migrants are most likely to have settled in Queens County.  

A Mobile Population : Stereotypes, both past and present, have tended to portray Prince Edward Island as a settled, stable place, outside the mainstream of population change. On the contrary, the data outlined above demonstrate that the Island has experienced substantial inflows and outflows of population throughout its history These migration patterns now link the Island and its people to every part of North America and beyond—a significant advantage in a global economy. Taking together the migration data with regards to age, education levels and language group, data suggest that net migration is offsetting the effects of an aging population for PEI by contributing young families; however, it is also reducing the pool of skilled human resources available to the PEI economy (there has been a net loss of population with post-secondary education  and a net gain of those with less than high school education) and  reducing the cultural diversity of PEI’s society (there has been a net loss of francophones and non-English population). In the 1980s, net migration accounted for 4% of PEI’s population growth, while in the 1990s, it has accounted for 29%. With the likelihood of further declines in the role of natural increase, and eventually a negative impact as the population ages, the role of migration will continue to grow in importance.

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