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Voter Turnout among Younger Canadians and Visible Minority Canadians: Evidence from the Provincial Diversity Project

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1. The Socio-Economic Profile of Younger Canadians and Visible Minority Canadians

Younger Canadians are less likely to vote than older ones. Visible minority Canadians are less likely to vote than other Canadians. Why? In order to start exploring the reasons why we observe such gaps in voting, the report first compares the socio-economic profile of the different groups. It is well known that some socio-economic characteristics are associated with lower and higher propensity to vote. Should younger and older Canadians or visible minority Canadians and other Canadians have different socio-economic profiles, this could help us identify some of the reasons why voter turnout varies across these different segments of the Canadian population. Table 2 presents the distribution of the socio-demographic characteristics.

Table 2. Socio-Demographic Characteristics of Younger and Visible Minority Canadians
  Age-Groups Visible Minority Status
  18-24 25-34 35+ Visible minority Canadians Other Canadians
Age (mean) 22 30*** 55*** 38 50***
Education (% highest degree)
High school or less
Household income (% less than $30,000) 40 20*** 16*** 24 17***
Unemployed (%) 8 8 4*** 7 5**
Student (%) 49 9*** 1*** 14 5***
Married (%) 19 55*** 68*** 54 63***
Time spent at religious inst. (% weekly) 10 11 13 18 11***
Recent immigrant (%) 8 9 3*** 24 2***
Minimum n= 787 2075 4300 1938 4862

Source: Provincial Diversity Project (2014).
Difference with 18-24 or visible minorities: ***: p<.001; **: p<.01; *: p<.05.

1.1 The Socio-Economic Profile of Younger Canadians

Younger and older Canadians differ on many socio-economic characteristics. First, a larger proportion of younger Canadians than older Canadians hold a university degree (45% and 41% for those aged 18-24 and 25-34 as opposed to 36% for those aged 35 and older). These differences reflect a well-documented gradual structural transformation in the Canadian population since the 1950s. The differences would actually be much larger if we unpacked the group of Canadians aged 35 and older.Footnote 3

Younger Canadians are also more likely to earn $30,000 or less than older Canadians (40%, 20%, and 16% respectively for Canadians aged 18 to 24, 25 to 34 and 35 and older). This finding can easily be explained by the fact that a substantial proportion of Canadians aged 18 to 24 are still in school. Indeed, close to half of our sample of 18 to 24 (49%) declared still being students in comparison to only 9% of those aged 25 to 34 and only 1% of those aged 35 and older. Younger Canadians are also more likely to report being unemployed than older Canadians, which could also help explain the differences in household income.

Another difference, somewhat predictable, concerns the proportions of Canadians reporting being married. Not surprisingly, younger Canadians are substantially less likely to report being married than older Canadians (19%, 55%, and 68% respectively for Canadians aged 18 to 24, 25 to 34 and 35 and older). Most of the above observations are not really surprising; younger and older Canadians are at different stages of the life-cycle. They are nevertheless worth mentioning as they could help explain the different propensity to vote across age groups.

A final difference worth reporting concerns the proportion of respondents that are recent immigrants, that is in Canada for 10 years or less. The differences are not large; while 8% and 9% of Canadians aged 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 are recent immigrants, this proportion is only 3% among the 35 and older.

1.2 The Socio-Economic Profile of Visible Minority Canadians

The differences in socio-economic characteristics are also quite systematic between visible minority Canadians and other Canadians. On all characteristics reported in Table 2, visible minority Canadians and other Canadians differ in a statistically significant manner. One of the most important differences is probably that visible minority Canadians are on average younger than other Canadians (38 vs. 50 year old).

Visible minority Canadians in our sample also appear more likely to hold a university degree (51% vs. 35%), and even to hold a post-graduate degree (17% vs. 11%). Interestingly, visible minorities in the aggregate appear less likely to vote in spite of this higher level of education.

Visible minority Canadians also appear more likely to hold an income lower than $30,000, more likely to be unemployed, more likely to be students and less likely to be married. Finally, and not surprisingly, they are substantially more likely to be recent immigrants than other Canadians (24% vs. 2%). As with younger Canadians, the socio-economic profile of visible minority Canadians offers some potential to explain at least part of the gap in voting observed with other Canadians.

Footnote 3 Canadians aged 35 and older are more likely to hold a post-secondary degree but this is only a reflection of the time it takes to complete such higher levels of education.