Economic and Project Analysis

Population Projections — Demographic Overview

November 2017

Updated: November 2017

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The population of Newfoundland and Labrador peaked in the early 1990s at over 580,000. However, years of net out-migration and declining fertility rates, combined with the moratoriums in the ground fishery, caused the population to decline between 1993 and 2008.

In 2008, population rose for the first time in 15 years. This growth continued for nine years from 2008 to 2016 as major project activity spurred net in-migration to the province. In-migration slowed in 2013 and became negative again in 2017 as economic activity declined due to major project timelines and low commodity prices. This trend in net out-migration is expected to continue over the medium-term.

While the province’s population increased over the past decade, since 2012 there has consistently been negative natural population change and this is expected to continue into the future. Consequently, negative natural population change is expected to continue to act as a constraint on population growth.

Demographic trends will alter the expectations, demand and needs of the province’s population. The impacts will affect a broad spectrum of this province’s society.



Newfoundland and Labrador’s fertility rate was 1.45 children per child-bearing age woman in 2014 (latest year available). This was one of the lowest fertility rates in the Country and well below the 2.1 rate required to just maintain current population levels in the absence of migration.

Fertility Rates
Canada and Provinces, 1974 and 2014

Fertility Rates: Canada and Provinces, 1974 and 2013

The roots of the province’s current demographic situation began with the high fertility rates and births that characterized most of the industrialized world during the 20-year period that followed World War II. The baby boom period ended midway through the 1960s as female baby boomers began pursuing higher education and entering the workforce at historically high rates. This, combined with the introduction and proliferation of birth control methods, pushed fertility rates and births down in most of the industrialized world, including Canada. Canadian fertility rates have now been below the replacement rate for over 40 years.

Fertility rates in this province continued to decline into the 1990s, a period of widespread economic decline in Newfoundland and Labrador. Some improvement occurred after 2000 and the rate rose to 1.59 by 2009. This was short-lived and the rate has since declined and was 1.45 by 2014.

The number of births has declined since the baby boom ended in the mid-1960s. Births dropped from over 12,700 in 1971 to about 4,400 in 2017, and are projected to drop to less than 3,700 by 2036. This trend is the result of a complex set of economic, social and cultural factors that are not easily changed by policy interventions.

Number of Births
NL, 1949 to 2036p

Number of Births: 1949 to 2036p


In tandem with increasing life expectancy, age specific mortality rates have generally declined over the past 40 years. That is, people are living longer on average: similar to the rest of Canada and other industrialized areas of the world. However, aging of the population has caused deaths to increase from about 3,200 in 1971 to roughly 5,300 in 2017.

NL, 1949 to 2036p

Deaths: NL, 1949 to 2036p

Life expectancy has increased from roughly 72 in the early 1970s to 79.4 over the 2012-2014 period. A number of factors have contributed to gains in the province’s life expectancy including improved health care services, better nutritional awareness and practices, and higher average incomes.

Life expectancy is expected to continue rising in line with historical trends in the coming years, but as more and more people move into the older age groups the number of deaths is projected to grow to over 7,000 by 2036.

Natural Population Change

Natural population change (births less deaths) is one of the key components of population change.

Components of Population Change

Components of Population Change

Historically, the high rate of positive natural population change in this province provided a cushion against net out-migration. This situation has changed quite significantly in the past 20 years, however, with the province recording large declines in the rate of natural population growth—the result of increasingly fewer births and aging-related increases in deaths. In 2007 and every year since 2012, Newfoundland and Labrador recorded more deaths than births. This pattern, while more pronounced in Newfoundland and Labrador, is occurring throughout Atlantic Canada. In 2017, all of the Atlantic Provinces with the exception of Prince Edward Island, recorded negative natural population change. Deaths are expected to continue to exceed births in Newfoundland and Labrador in the future and this negative natural population change is expected to become progressively larger over the projection period (present to 2036).

Natural Population Change
NL, 1949 to 2036p

Natural Population Change, NL, 1949 to 2036p


Net-migration (in-migrants less out-migrants) is the other component of population change. Net-migration has historically been negative as the number of people leaving generally out-numbered the number moving to this province. Between 1972 and 1993, annual net out-migration averaged about 3,800, as residents, primarily younger people, left their home communities (particularly in rural areas) to further their education and/or to seek employment.

Net Migration
NL, 1972 to 2036p

Net Migration, NL, 1972 to 2036p

Net out-migration increased rapidly after 1994 (following the collapse of the cod fishery, government restraint measures, and EI reform), reaching a peak of roughly 12,000 in 1998. Net out-migration trended downward for the next several years as adjustments related to these unique economic shocks were absorbed and a period of strong economic growth emerged. Beginning in 2008, the province experienced net in-migration as a result of increased labour demand for various major projects. Between 2008 and 2016 net in-migration averaged about 2,500 per year. Going forward, a return to net out-migration is expected to occur in the short-term as major project activity decelerates.


Historically, the impacts of out-migration on population growth have been offset by a high level of natural population growth. In the 1990s, however, the continual decline in births, together with severe economic shocks took its toll. A sharp increase in out-migration combined with low natural population growth resulted in significant population declines.

The onset of oil production in 1997 marked a period of improvement in economic conditions in Newfoundland and Labrador. After years of strong economic growth and demand for labour for major projects, the province experienced net in-migration and population growth from 2008 to 2016. However, population decline occurred in 2017, reflecting natural decline and a return of net out-migration due to a slowing economy and employment losses.

Total Population Change
NL, 1972 to 2036p

Total Population Change, NL, 1972 to 2036p

Going forward, declining major project activity and lower commodity prices are expected to result in further net out-migration. Negative natural population change and net out-migration will likely result in population declines in the short-to-medium term. Beyond 2022 out-migration pressures should ease, but natural population declines will continue to exert downward pressure on population. Total population is projected to drop from 528,817 in 2017 to roughly 506,000 in 2036.

Population Projections

Population Projections


All Canadian provinces are faced with an aging population and are very concerned with the challenges this presents for the delivery and financing of social services. In Newfoundland and Labrador, however, the aging phenomenon was exacerbated by high rates of out-migration among young people in the most fertile child-bearing age range and low fertility rates. As a result the province’s population has aged much more rapidly than any other province in the country over the last 45 years. The province’s median age has gone from five years lower than Canada’s in 1971 to almost five years higher than Canada’s in 2017. The aging trend will continue for years to come.

Median Age by Economic Zone
NL, 2017

Median Age by Economic Zone, NL, 2017

The median age in the province is expected to increase from 45.7 years of age in 2017 to 50.0 years in 2036. Rapid aging of the population is perhaps one of the most important demographic challenges confronting the province because of its significant implications for Government.

The aging trend is expected to be more pronounced in rural areas of the province as youth out-migration from these areas continues. For example in Economic Zone 10 on the province’s Southwest Coast, the median age is roughly 53 years, almost 8 years higher than for the province as a whole, and is expected to increase to almost 60 by 2036. Thus, the impacts of aging will vary across regions.

Population Change by Economic Zone
1991 to 2036 Medium Scenario

1991 to 2007 Change
2007 to 2017 Change
2017 to 2036 Change
Median Age 2017
Economic Zone
See: Economic Zone Maps

Regional Demographic Change

Population declined in most regions of the province between 1991 and 2007, but the pattern of decline differed, with fishery/EI-dependent rural regions disproportionately impacted. With the exception of Zone 1 in Labrador and Zone 19 on the Avalon Peninsula, all areas experienced population losses over the 1991 to 2007 period. Areas more heavily dependent on the ground fish fishery such as the Northern Peninsula, the Northeast Coast, the South Coast and areas of the Avalon Peninsula outside the St. John’s Census Metropolitan Area experienced the largest population losses.

Larger population losses in rural areas of the province have resulted in an increased concentration of the population in urban areas. Further shifts in the regional distribution of the province’s population are expected as youth out-migration from rural areas continues. This combined with negative natural population change means that the share of total population in rural areas will continue to trend downward. Thus, while total population of the province is expected to decline by only 4.3% to 2036, some regions of the province will continue to record significant population decline while a few others will experience population growth.

The impacts of demographic change, while not all negative, will be felt across a broad spectrum of Newfoundland and Labrador society. It will create challenges in some areas and opportunities for others.

Some areas likely to be impacted include:

  • Business sector (e.g., shifting spending patterns and needs)
  • Health Care (e.g., home support services, pharmaceuticals)
  • Education (e.g., declining enrolment, life-long learning)
  • Municipalities (e.g., declining revenue base in some communities)
  • Justice (e.g., changing nature of criminal activity)
  • Social Assistance (e.g., shifting needs)
  • Regional Economic Development (e.g., declining rural population)
  • Workplace Injury (e.g., higher rehabilitation costs for older workers)
  • General Public Sector (e.g., revenue generation, expenditure pressures)
  • Labour Markets (e.g., demand, supply imbalances)

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