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Economic Viewpoint

Charting a Course to a Bright Future: How Canadian Youth Are Navigating Education and Employment

April 17, 2023
Jimmy Jean, Vice-President, Chief Economist and Strategist, Randall Bartlett, Senior Director of Canadian Economics, Marc Desormeaux, Principal Economist, and Maëlle Boulais-Préseault, Economist

  • Today’s Canadian youth ages 15 to 34 are better educated, more entrepreneurial and more international in their perspective than any generation that came before them.
  • Until recently, youth were a declining share of Canada’s population. From nearly 40% of the population in the early 1980s, the youth share fell to a record low of just over 25% in 2021. However, a surge in immigration with a preference toward younger newcomers led to a reversal of these fortunes in 2022, and the increase in the immigrant share of youth is expected to continue. This should help Canada gain ground on our younger neighbour to the south and help to further our demographic advantage relative to our other G7 peers overseas.
  • Canadian youth are also better educated than in the past and outpace much of the OECD when it comes to college certifications and bachelor’s degrees. While student debt continues to pose a challenge for many young Canadians, lower-income students are pursuing postsecondary education in increasingly greater numbers. International students and young immigrants also play an important role in boosting Canada’s educational prowess.
  • Higher levels of education have been reflected in the greater labour market attachment and earnings of Canadian youth, particularly women. Canadian youth are also more entrepreneurial than ever before. But despite these gains, there remain challenges in the transition from school to work as well as ensuring that the skills of youth are being leveraged to the greatest degree possible. Young women are also subject to unique challenges, as they are often called on to care for loved ones in a way that young men aren’t, with the most well-educated women paying the highest cost.
  • While Canadian youth have a lot to celebrate, challenges remain. Young women in particular were experiencing declining mental health even before the COVID-19 pandemic, which only exacerbated these struggles. Young immigrants also face challenges that other youth don’t.
  • Policy has a role to play in addressing these challenges. A Quebec-style subsidized childcare program is a good start. Greater public support for mental health would also be low-hanging fruit. Increased workplace flexibility would support an improved work–life balance as well.