Social Trends in the Central Ontario Zone

The social processes affecting this Zone are in broad outline similar to those influencing other urban regions and the nation as a whole. But in the case of large urban regions, and especially in the case of the Central Ontario Zone, these changes tend to be more intense and more concentrated. The rate of social change is invariably higher in urban areas than in non-urban areas, and the impacts of change are often more visible, dramatic, and more geographically uneven.

There are at least four major sources of change that have swept over this Zone and that guarantee rapid social change in the future. These four include:

  1. the demographic transition;
  2. shifts in the rate and components of population growth;
  3. immigration and increased social and ethno-cultural diversity;
  4. alternative living arrangements; households, families, lifestyles, and life choices.

Each of these represents an ongoing social transformation, but each has its roots in processes started two generations ago. All, however, will continue to send ripples through the social structure and social geography of the Central Ontario Zone well into the future. Since most of these trends are well-known,7 although not necessarily as widely appreciated, the emphasis here is placed on their implications for planning and public policy.

Given considerable confusion about terminology in the popular media, it is useful to differentiate between the factors influencing:

  • the overall rate of change (e.g., population growth);
  • the composition of change (e.g., by age group, ethnicity);
  • the where, or pattern of change within the Central Ontario Zone (e.g., the geography).

It is also useful to differentiate between the processes underlying these changes, the outcomes of those processes, and the implications of these outcomes. Examples of the latter are provided in summary form in Table 1 as a basis for the following review and discussion.

Table 1: Social Change in Urban Regions: A Summary of the Processes, Outcomes, and Implications for Public Policy




Demographic transition

  • Baby boom/baby bust
  • Aging population
  • Declining fertility
  • Uneven size of age cohorts
  • Increasing proportion of senior workers
  • Decreasing younger age cohorts
  • Intergenerational differences in wealth
  • Lower densities
  • Age structure truncated
  • Age drives the housing market
  • Smaller households
  • Changes in mix of services required
  • Employment shortages
  • Increased demand for community care, medical facilities
  • Reduced residential mobility

Changing components of population growth

  • Decreasing importance of natural increase and domestic migration
  • Increasing importance of immigration in terms of rate, location, social origins
  • Population growth more uncertain
  • Location of growth less responsive to local factors
  • Rapid social change
  • More intense residential segregation

Social and ethnic diversity

  • Attributable to recent immigration sources
  • Increasing minority population
  • Increasing social and spatial clustering
  • Culturally distinct communities
  • Challenge of accommodating diversity
  • Stress on service providers and public institutions
  • Concentrations of socially disadvantaged groups
  • Lower levels of social cohesion

Changing attitudes to family and lifestyles

  • Proliferation of living arrangements
  • Fragmentation of the family
  • Reduced household size
  • More diverse households
  • More single parents
  • Fewer workers per household
  • Housing demand will increase faster than rate of population growth
  • Increase in dependency levels
  • Increase in special needs
  • Higher incidence of poverty
  • Polarization of income distribution
7. D. Foot and D. Stoffman, Boom, Bust and Echo: How to Profit from the Coming Demographic Shift, Toronto: Macfarlane Walter & Ross, 1996; R. Beaujot, Immigration and Canadian Demographics: The State of Research, Population Studies Centre University of Western Ontario, London, 1998; Statistics Canada, 2001 Census Analysis Series: A Profile of the Canadian Population: Where we Live, Cat. 96F0030XIE010012001, Ottawa, 2002.