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Youth Electoral Engagement in Canada

2. A descriptive profile of Canadian youth

Our first task is to provide a summary picture of youth's socio-demographic characteristics. Table 1 presents the main findings. Following Statistics Canada's age group classifications in the 2006 Census, we distinguish two youth groups, aged 18-24 and  25-29 , which we compare to those aged  30-65 . Footnote 1 We focus on those socio-economic characteristics that existing research suggests could be related to the propensity to vote or not to vote: gender, education, income, employment, marital status, place of residence (urban/rural), mobility, religion, and origin, i.e. whether individuals were born in Canada or not. Footnote 2

Beginning with gender, we find that men and women are more or less equally balanced in each age group. However, men seem slightly more prevalent in those aged  18-24 . Women appear slightly more prevalent in those aged 25-29 and  30-65 .

Looking at household income, we find little difference in the percentage of those with income less than $40,000 per annum among those aged 18-24 and 25-29 (27%). Among those aged 30-65 , there is a slightly lower percentage (24%). Footnote 3

Considering education, we find that Canadian youth are better educated than their older counterparts. While just over a quarter (28%) of Canadians aged 18-24 report having some post-secondary education, this share climbs to 54.2% among those aged  25-29 .Footnote 4 By contrast, under half (47%) of those aged 30-65 report having some post-secondary education. We assume that the eventual level of education among those aged 18-24 will look very similar to those aged  25-29 . Indeed, we find evidence for this when we examine the share of Canadians who are students. We find that more than half of those aged 18-24 (58%) are currently students. This declines to 23% among those aged  25-29 . Just eight percent of those aged 30-65 report being students.

Table 1: A demographic profile of young Canadians
   18-24   25-29   30-65 
% men 50.5  49.2  49.1 
% household income more than $40,000  73.4  72.6  75.5 
% some post-secondary education 28.0  54.2  47.2 
% students 58.3  23.2  8.1 
% married 4.3  26.7  61.2 
% urban 69.5  72.3  67.2 
% moved in last year 27.6  28.9  11.0 
% non-religious 20.9  22.6  15.4 
% born outside of Canada 16.4  20.0  25.5 

Data are drawn from the 2006 Canadian Census, with the exception of religious attendance.

Rates of marriage also differ greatly between various age groups. For those aged  18-24 , just one in twenty-five reports being married. This increases to 27% of those aged  25-39 . The percentage more than doubles to 61% among those aged  30-65 .

Young Canadians appear only slightly more likely to live in an urban area.Footnote 5 More importantly, young Canadians are nearly three times as likely to have moved in the last year compared to their older counterparts. More than a quarter (27.6%) of those aged 1824 report moving in the last year. This share climbs to 28.9% among those aged  25-29 . By contrast, among those aged  30-65 , only 11.0% report having moved in the last year. This is a stark difference.

We find that young Canadians are more likely to report no religious affiliation than older Canadians.Footnote 6 Among those aged 18-24 and  25-29 , one-in-five reports no religion. The ratio declines to one-in-seven among those aged  30-65 . Clearly, religion appears less important to young Canadians than to older Canadians. This too could explain some of the decline in voter turnout, as religion or religious observance has been known to be a predictor of the decision to participate in elections.

Finally, when we consider the place of birth of Canadians, we find a notable difference between our age groups. Young Canadians are more likely to have been born in Canada than older Canadians. Among those aged  18-24 , some 84% report being born in Canada. This declines slightly (80%) among those aged  25-29 , and declines even farther among those aged 30-65 (74%).

Having profiled young and older Canadians, we now consider the differences between voters and non-voters among Canadians aged 18-30 .

Footnote 1 These two groups respectively represent 9.2% and 6.3% of Canadians, according to the 2006 census.

Footnote 2 Throughout this study, we use the 2006 Census whenever possible. All data are drawn from the 20% sample. In a previous version of this study, we compared Canadians aged 18-24 and  25-30 . We use the categories provided for the 2006 Census (i.e. 18-24 and  25-29 ). When we regroup the previous data according to these new categories, we find that the general differences between groups hold for each variable. Accordingly, the percentages presented are not sensitive to the different categorizations.

Footnote 3 We make use of household income rather than individual income for two reasons. First, household income is the measure used in the Canadian Election Study. Accordingly, it affords us greater congruence between the first and second analyses to use this measure. Second, measuring individual income will tell us little about the economic class or status of individuals who are not working. Consider, for example, two high school students, one from a very poor family and the other from a wealthy family. We would expect that the benefits of a large household income would make the second individual very different from the first, not least in attaining the tools and knowledge necessary to vote. Nonetheless, if we measured their individual incomes, we would see no difference between them and would be at a loss to explain the relationship between income and electoral participation. For these two reasons, we employ a measure of household income.

Footnote 4 Following the 2006 Census categories as defined by CANSIM, we consider those who have some postsecondary education as having a college or CEGEP certificate or a university certificate, diploma or degree. This produces results that are markedly different from those in our earlier version of this report. This is due to different classification categories in 2001 and 2006. Nonetheless, while the quantities differ markedly, the same pattern is obtained as before, where those in the middle age category have the highest average education.

Footnote 5 We consider Canadians resident in census metropolitan areas (or CMAs) to be resident in an urban area.

Footnote 6 Questions pertaining to religion are asked in every second census. Accordingly, we rely on the 2001 Census to provide information on religious attendance among our various age groups.