Labour Force

Age Distribution in the Workforce

Nova Scotia's labour statistics continue to reflect the demographic shift attributed to the ageing baby boomer population. In the last decade, the number of people in Nova Scotia’s workforce has, on average, been stable because of an increase in the proportion of older workers (those age 55 years and older) in the workforce.

In contrast, the proportion of youth and core-aged workers has declined. The share of older workers in the workforce has been greater than the proportion of youth (15 to 24 years) since 2009.


labeled “Distribution of Labour Force by Age Group 2001, 2011, 2021 Nova Scotia. A horizontal stacked bar chart. The vertical axis has a bar for each year. The horizontal axis has percentages from 0 to 100 in increments of 10. Dark blue = 15-24 years. Medium blue = 25-54 years. Light blue = 55 years and older.

From 2001 to 2021, the share of older workers in the labour force rose from one-tenth to nearly one-quarter.

  • The growth in this workforce was concentrated in the years 2001 to 2012 which coincides with the baby boomer population entering the older worker demographic.
  • In 2021, older workers (55 years and over) accounted for 24% of the total workforce, the highest proportion for this category on record (data available from 1976 to 2021).
  • The population aged 55 and over also accounted for an increasing share of the population not in the labour force (from 59% in 2001 to 75% in 2021).

Youth (15 to 24 years) accounted for 15% of the labour force in 2021, up from 14% in 2020 as COVID restrictions took effect, but lower than the 17% proportion seen historically (from 1998 through 2008).

The prime working-age group (25 to 54 years) accounted for 61% of the total workforce in 2021. The share of the prime working-age group has steadily declined since it peaked at 75% in 1997. The graph below shows that the number of older adults (ages 55 years and over) in the labour force has increased by 32.1% since 2011 while it has decreased by 5.0% for those below 55 years of age.


labeled “Indexed Labour Force by Age Group, 2011 to 2021, Nova Scotia. Base year: 2011 = 100”. Vertical bar chart. Vertical axis shows labour force. Horizontal shows each year from 2011 to 2021. For each year there are two bars. Dark blue = 15 to 54 years. Light blue = 55 years and older. Two dotted lines indicate the trend over time for each age group. Slight decline for core age workers. Increasing for older workers.

Participation Rate


labeled “Labour Force Participation Rates by Age, 2011 to 2021 Nova Scotia”. Vertical bar and line chart. Vertical axis has participation rate percentage. Horizontal axis has each year from 2011 to 2021. For each year there are two bars. Dark blue = 15 to 24 years. Light blue = 55 years and older. Dotted lines indicate the trend for those two age groups. Core age workers 25 to 54 years are shown as a medium blue line.

The labour force participation rate gives an indication of the willingness of those of working age to participate in the labour market. In addition to economic conditions, some factors that can affect participation rates include:

  • the age distribution of the population
  • the industrial make-up of the province
  • the percentage of the population engaged in educational activities.

While higher rates of educational enrollment have contributed to lower participation rates for youth (ages 15 to 24 years), declining fertility boosted youth participation which increased by 4.3 percentage points from 2016 to 2021. Due to COVID-19’s disproportionate effect on the youth labour market, the youth participation rate dropped 5.7 percentage points, from 69.9% in 2019 to 64.2% in 2020. The youth participation rate rebounded in 2021, however, increasing by 3.8 points to 68.0%.

In the past, youth have had lower participation rates than those aged 25 to 54 (core working age), but higher than those aged 55 years and over.

  • The gap between participation rates for youth and older adults (ages 55 years and over) has grown slightly over the last 10 years due to the changing demographics in Nova Scotia, however, it has been mitigated by delayed retirements. 

Participation rates over the last ten years have risen slightly among youth, core-aged workers, and older workers (shown in the graph above). This is despite an expectation that participation drops with advanced age. Additionally, retirees are considered non-participants, which contributes to lower participation rates among higher age groups.


labeled “Labour Force Participation Rates by Province”. Vertical bar chart with the vertical axis showing participation rate percentage. Horizontal axis has a blue bar for Canada and then one for each province.

The participation rate in Nova Scotia was the third-lowest of the ten Canadian provinces in 2021.

  • Participation rates increased in all ten provinces in 2021 compared to 2020.
  • Nova Scotia’s participation rate rose by 1.7 percentage points from 2020, tying British Columbia for the largest increase among provinces.
  • This increase follows a 1.9 percentage point decrease in 2020, as the COVID pandemic negatively affected the labour market.

Aside from the recent effects of COVID, the labour force participation rate Nova Scotia has declined in most years since 2011, falling by 2.1 percentage points in the ten-year span to 2021. The lower participation rate reflects several factors, including an older population who tend to have lower levels of labour force participation.


Table titled “Participation Rate 2011 to 2021, Canada and Nova Scotia: Age 15 years and over”. Rows show the Rate and Change for both Canada and Nova Scotia. Columns cover each year from 2011 to 2021.

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