Labour Force

Age Distribution in the Workforce

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

In contrast there has been declines for both the youth and adult workforce populations. The share of older workers in the workforce has been greater than the proportion of youth (15 to 24 years) since 2010.

Distribution of Labour Force by Age Group, 2000, 2010, 2020 Nova Scotia

From 2000 to 2020 the share of older workers in the labour force grew 150%. 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. Since 2016, older workers (55 years and over) have accounted for 23% of the total workforce, the highest proportion for this category on record (data available from 1976 to 2020).

The share of individuals not in the labour force also grew for the older worker population by 22.5% from 2010 to 2020. The greatest growth in this worker category not in the labour force grew the most from 2013 to 2015, with an average annual growth of 3.7%. The growth in both those in the labour force and those not in the labour force for the older workers demonstrates that Nova Scotia is experiencing the effect of an aging population.

Youth (15 to 24 years) account for 14%, although this proportion was up slightly in 2018 and 2019 it is now back to its 2017 level. Many of the job losses from the COVID-19 pandemic occurred among youth. It may be that many youths have left the labour market until prospects improve.

The prime working-age group (25 to 54 years) accounts for 62% of the total workforce. 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 27.2% since 2010 while it has decreased by 8.6% for those below 55 years of age.

Indexed Labour Force by Age Group, 2010 to 2020, Nova Scotiabase year 2010=100

Participation Rate

Labour Force Participation Rates by Age, 2010 to 2020, Nova Scotia

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) the impact of declining fertility rates are also experienced among youth participation, which increased by four percentage points from 2018 to 2019.

As previously stated, many of the job losses from the COVID-19 pandemic amongst youth workers. 2020’s youth labour force participation is tied to dampened labour market prospects. Additionally, retirees are considered non-participants, which would contribute to the lower participation rates of the higher age groups.

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 as a result of the changing demographics in Nova Scotia, however it has been softened by delayed retirements. 

The graph above shows that participation rates for core-aged adults (ages 25 to 54 years) remained steady between 2010 and 2019 while it has increased for youth (ages 15 to 24 years) and older workers (ages 55 years and over) who are expected to participate less in comparison to the core-aged adults.

Labour Force Participation Rates by Province, 2020  Age 15 years and over


The participation rate in Nova Scotia was the second lowest of the ten Canadian provinces in 2020. Participation rates decreased all 10 provinces in 2020 compared to 2019. Nova Scotia’s participation rate fell by 1.9 percentage points from 2019, the fourth lowest growth across all provinces.

The labour force participation rate in the province has been declining since 2011, except for 2012 where it reached a high of 64.4%. The lower participation rate reflects several factors, including an older population who tend to have lower levels of labour force participation.

Participation Rate 2010 to 2020, Canada and Nova Scotia: Age 15 years and over

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