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Coastal regions account for nearly three-quarters of British Columbia’s growing population, but uneven distribution impacts living standards on the coast. While some coastal communities are growing, others are shrinking, and yet many shoulder high rates of dependent populations — children and the elderly — compared to those of working age.

Authors: Karin Bodtker and Raissa Philibert, Coastal Ocean Research Institute, an Ocean Wise initiative

Reviewers: No technical reviewer

Banner Photo Credit: Jenn Burt

What’s happening?


Figure 1. Annual population change (percent) between 2011 and 2016, mapped by census subdivision. Source: Statistics Canada.

Examining the population profile for a region is akin to studying the character of its communities. We looked at some demographic indicators to profile B.C.’s coastal regions and compare them to the province as a whole. Some aspects of demography, the study of human population change, can be related to community wellbeing. The population of B.C. increased by 1.1 percent annually between 2011 and 2016. However, we found that population increase is uneven. Growth is occurring in some coastal regions, but not others (Figure 1). Population in the central coast and parts of the southern coast, including some areas of Vancouver Island, grew at a higher rate than the provincial growth rate.

We also found that while age and gender distribution in the coastal regions as a whole does not differ significantly from age and gender distribution in B.C., the dependency rate (i.e., the number of young and old as a proportion of the working-age population) is higher in a few specific coastal areas. In general, the north and central coastal areas have fewer elders and more youth in their populations than other coastal areas (see Current Status section).

Why is it important?


Photo: Geralt (

The population, growth, and age and gender distribution of a regional population have an impact on prospects for raising or maintaining the standard of living. Growth can also bring challenges in terms of demand for housing, jobs and services, and increase pressures on the natural environment. All of these factors influence community wellbeing.

Tracking the distribution of the population by age and gender has many important implications, ranging from the relative size of the labour force to school enrollment to needs in the health services realm. Status and trends in age and gender distribution are useful for determining the age-based needs of the residents. At the same time, these metrics describe the current and changing nature of communities and regions.

In general, population growth (Figure 1) is viewed as a strong sign of community vitality. Age structure that does not deviate from the provincial pattern signals that the region is supporting the needs of people of all ages, while a skewed distribution with an absence of specific age groups implies an unbalanced community.

Population indicators also provide context that helps to understand trends in other indicators, including economic and environmental indicators (see article in the Development Theme on Income and Labour).

What is the current status?


Figure 2. 2016 population per census subdivision. Source: Statistics Canada.

The population of coastal B.C. in 2016 was 3.35 million (72 percent of B.C.’s total population) and is unevenly distributed, with more people in the south (Figure 2). Population growth follows this pattern, with small pockets of growth occurring mostly in southern areas (Figure 1). Haida Gwaii and the Central Coast are exceptions in northern B.C. with average annual growth rates ranging from 0.56 to 1.21 percent.

Age and gender distributions for the coastal regions show the same patterns as the province as a whole (Figure 3). Generally, females slightly outnumber males and the largest age groups are just over 50 years of age. Notably, males and females in older age classes are present in the coastal regions at roughly the same proportion as in B.C. overall.

Examining the distribution of age classes, in terms of young (aged 19 and younger), elders (aged 65 and older), and those of working age (20 to 64 years), at a finer geographic scale along the coast reveals some differences (Figure 4). The north and central coastal areas (including Kitimat-Stikine, Skeena-Queen Charlotte, Central Coast, and Mount Waddington) all have lower proportions of elders than most areas to the south – except Greater Vancouver. These same north and central areas also have greater proportions of young, aged zero to 19.


Figure 3. Population distribution by age and gender for coastal regions compared to all of B.C. Source: Statistics Canada.


Figure 4. Percentage of population broken into three age groups for each coastal census division (left). Map of coastal census divisions (right). Source: Statistics Canada.

What can you do?



Individual and Organization Actions:

  • Be aware of population and demographic trends in your community and support government action to address change and imbalance.


Government Actions and Policy:

  • Establish a Coastal Zone Management Act in B.C. to reaffirm B.C.’s commitment to the conservation and sustainable management of estuarine, coastal and marine resources and to the development of a comprehensive Coastal Management Strategy.

Additional Content and References in Full Article

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