The Lure of Alberta to BC Youth

According to the recent National Household Survey, there were about 78,000 British Columbia residents in 2011 who had been living in Alberta 5 years earlier. There were about 57,000 Alberta residents who were living in BC in 2006. On a net basis, migration between the two provinces was +21,000 for BC over the 5-year period.

The chart below shows that BC gained people in almost every age group, except teenagers and young adults in the 15-24 age range (as of 2011). A reasonable explanation is that young BC residents are attracted to the high wages and job opportunities in Alberta (average weekly wages are 20% higher in Alberta than BC). Most of the migrants in their late teens and early 20s are unlikely to have completed post-secondary education, but even retail and food service workers in Fort McMurray are paid substantially more than similar positions in BC.

Digging a little deeper into the data shows that the total number of migrants from BC to Alberta actually peaks in the 25-29 age range. But on a net basis, there are even more Alberta residents in their late-20s moving to BC, at least some of whom are likely BC natives who moved to Alberta in their early 20s and then moved back home.

Alberta appears most attractive to BC residents in their younger adult years from age 20 to 35 and then declines for every older age group. On the other hand, Alberta residents also move to BC in larger numbers in their 20s and 30s, but the rate of migration is sustained at a much higher level through the 40s, 50s and even into the 60s. The obvious explanation is that Alberta has the jobs and the economic opportunity that attracts young adults just starting out in their working life, but BC has the quality of life that becomes more appealing as people age into their pre-retirement and retirement years.

Then again, while the general demographic patterns discussed above are likely to remain consistent over time, BC’s net gain in population from Alberta is not necessarily the norm. in fact, the five-year period between the 2006 Census and 2011 Census just happens to coincide with the high-water mark for BC’s interprovincial migration from Alberta over the last 15 years. For six consecutive years from 1997 to 2002 BC had a net outflow of between 6,000 and 18,000 people per year to Alberta.  The net outflow returned in 2011 and 2012 and it will be interesting to see how things change in 2013 once final year-end data is released.

Note: “Migration” is not quite the correct term for the number of people moving between provinces over the 2006 to 2011 period. It doesn’t include those who moved and then passed away, as well as those who may have moved once and then moved again, either back to their original location or to an entirely different province or country, within the 5-year period. For purposes of this analysis, the term works just fine.