Immigration Demographics

Nova Scotia’s population is declining and aging. These conditions present a threat to the province’s economic viability. An aging population, low fertility rates and a lack of immigration have all resulted in population decline, particularly noticeable in rural and non-metro communities. Increasing demands for labour in Alberta has resulted in the out-migration of working-age youth from rural parts of Nova Scotia. In a province that has historically struggled with high levels of unemployment, the expectation that Nova Scotia will run out of available labour within the next decade presents confounding challenges. In order to cultivate the population of Nova Scotia, communities must develop strategies around best practices to attract, engage and retain a diverse range of residents.

Suggested Municipal Strategies in Addressing Demographics

  • Develop a youth engagement toolkit to be used by municipal council and staff
  • Encourage youth to join adhoc community committees of interest to them
  • Form a Youth Council to get input from youth on key municipal issues
  • Become a "Welcoming and Inclusive Community" for immigrants and newly arrived residents
  • Develop a mentorship program for young workers and recent graduates
  • Become an "Age-Friendly" Community

Demographic Snapshot


Nova Scotia currently has the oldest population in Canada, with approximately 15.4 percent of residents over the age of 65 (Department of Seniors, 2009). Recent reports have estimated that the number of seniors in Nova Scotia will increase by over 70 percent by 2026 – growing from 128,000 in 2001 to 218,000 in 2026 (McNiven et al., 2006). By 2034, the senior population of Nova Scotia will increase to 263,400 – representing an increase of 107 percent over a 33-year period.


While the population of seniors in Nova Scotia is expected to rise dramatically in the next two decades, youth population (5 to 19 years of age) is expected to decline by 21.8 percent. Similarly, the 20 to 24 age group is expected to decrease from 6.6 percent of the total population in 2009 to 4.9 percent in 2034 (Government of NS, 2010). Over the last decade, economic decline and unemployment in rural areas of Nova Scotia have contributed to accelerated out-migration of working-age youth. Moreover, cutbacks in government services have resulted in fewer recreational, employment, and educational resources for teenagers in rural communities. As a result, many students are eager to move to urban centres upon graduation from high school. Youth who have a stake in their community before they leave are the youth who are more likely to return to rural careers.

International Students

Atlantic Canada’s universities have become increasingly competitive in their recruitment and enrolment strategies for bolstering student populations. This has resulted in the growth rate of the number of students from other Canadian provinces and from other countries outpacing the growth rate of students from within Atlantic Canada at many institutions (Siddiq, et al., 2009). Between 1996 and 2005, the annual inflows of international students coming to the Atlantic Provinces doubled, from 1,500 to 3,000 (Metropolis, 2008).

Recruiting international students as potential immigrants to Nova Scotia would help offset the province’s demographic challenge. Nova Scotia attracts over 10 percent of the international student population in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2009). The average age of the international student population is 22 years old, which is in the range of the declining youth cohort in Nova Scotia (Siddiq, et al., 2009). Over two-thirds of international students have full fluency in English or French. Further, many of these students will graduate with some Canadian work experience. These qualifications make international students an ideal target group for reversing demographic trends in Nova Scotia.


While not a panacea, the recruitment and retention of skilled immigrants and foreign workers may help reverse negative demographic trends and fill labour shortages in Canada. In 2009, Nova Scotia welcomed 2,424 immigrants, representing a 10 percent decrease from the previous year (CIC, Facts and Figures, 2010). Working age immigrants in Nova Scotia tend to be highly educated, with over 55 percent holding bachelors degrees or higher (NS-OIM, 2006).

Research Documents