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 (people born between 1946 and 1964). 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) in 2012 as well as in 2022.


labeled “Distribution of Labour Force by Age Group 2002, 2012, 2022 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 2002 to 2012, the share of older workers in the labour force rose from one-tenth (11%) to one-fifth (20%), and for the period of 2002 to 2022, it rose from one-tenth (10%) to almost a quarter (24%).

  • The growth in the workforce aged 55 and up was concentrated in the years 2002 to 2012 which coincides with the baby boomer population entering the older worker demographic. In 2022, older workers (55+) accounted for 24% of the total workforce, near the highest proportion for this age group on record, with only 2021 slightly higher (data available from 1976 to 2022).
  • The population aged 55 and over also accounted for an increasing share of the population not in the labour force (from 61% in 2002 to 68% in 2012 and to 74% in 2022).
  • Youth (ages 15-24) accounted for 15% of the labour force in both 2002 and 2012, and this proportion rose to 17% in 2022.
  • The prime working age group (25-54) accounted for 61% of the labour force in 2002, 64% in 2012 and 73% in 2022. The share of the prime working age group has steadily declined since it peaked at 75% in 1997.

labeled “Indexed Labour Force by Age Group, 2012 to 2022, Nova Scotia. Base year: 2012 = 100”. Vertical bar chart. Vertical axis shows labour force. Horizontal axis shows each year from 2012 to 2022. 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

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 makeup 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 3.1 percentage points from 2017 to 2022.

Due to COVID-19’s disproportionate effect on the youth labour market, the youth participation rate dropped 4.4 percentage points, from 69.8% in 2019 to 65.4% in 2020. The youth participation rate rebounded in 2021, however, increasing by 3.7 percentage points to 69.1%. It then decreased in 2022 by 0.7 percentage points to 68.4%.

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+) 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 below). 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 Age, 2012 to 2022 Nova Scotia”. Vertical bar and line chart. Vertical axis has participation rate percentage. Horizontal axis has each year from 2012 to 2022. 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.

  • In 2022 the participation rate in Nova Scotia was lower than that of the national average, while simultaneously being the third lowest in Atlantic Canada and among 10 provinces.
  • Nova Scotia’s participation rate decreased by 0.7 percentage points from 2021 to 2022

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

Aside from the recent effects of COVID-19, the labour force participation rate in Nova Scotia has declined in most years since 2012, falling by 3.0 percentage points in the ten-year span to 2022. The lower participation rate reflects several factors, including an older population who tends to have lower levels of labour force participation.

Table titled “Participation Rate 2012 to 2022, 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 2012 to 2022.