Staying Put: Non-Movers in Census Data

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One of the more obscure data points in the Census is what Statistics Canada calls “mobility,” the number of people who moved or didn’t move. In the Census this is measured as the number of people who were living at the same or a different address one year before or five years before, and, if they moved during that period, where they moved from.

This data point has, over the years, periodically captured my attention when I noticed that the percentage of Toronto’s population who didn’t move seemed high. I had attributed this to high housing costs in Toronto discouraging homeowners from selling and buying—even though sellers can get a high price for their house, they have to pay a high price to buy their next one, so for many people it might make sense to just stay put.

Data from the 2016 Census, however, shows that my supposition is simplistic. The table below summarizes the percentage of people who didn’t change address from 2011 to 2016 (both Census years) for the five cities in southern Ontario with the highest percentage of non-movers and the five cities with the lowest percentage (from among southern Ontario’s 59 largest cities and towns). The table also includes the ten cities with the largest total populations; these are included since I’ve used them in tables and charts in previous posts.

The town of Scugog, located north of Oshawa, had the highest percentage of residents who stayed at the same address from 2011 to 2016. Milton, where barely half of residents stayed at the same address, ranks as the city with the most movers in southern Ontario. Of Ontario’s ten largest cities, Vaughan has the highest percentage of non-movers, while Brampton had the lowest percentage. Toronto, despite my observations in past Census, had a relatively low percentage of non-movers in 2016, just below sixty percent (below the province’s average).

What to make of this? To be honest, I had expected Ontario’s largest cities to have relatively low percentages of non-movers, since big cities generally offer a wide range of housing options which could encourage people to move, plus big cities have significant in- and out-movements of people, including foreign immigration. However, Ontario’s ten largest cities are mostly above the province’s average, with some cities like Vaughan and Pickering and Mississauga showing relatively high percentages of non-movers. Toronto ranks much lower than I expected. One of Ontario’s larger cities, Kingston, ranks fourth from the bottom—apparently over forty percent of that city’s residents can’t stay put. Milton, Ontario’s fastest growing city for the last couple of Census periods, has the lowest percentage of residents who stayed at the same address.

Overall, this data raises more questions than it answers. Although I didn’t show it, I used Excel’s correlation tool to compare non-movers to other demographic data points (including total population, renter households, and housing costs), but non-movers doesn’t have a meaningful correlation with anything else, positive or negative. In a future post I’ll examine mobility data which shows where movers moved from, which should help add to the picture and perhaps make it possible to identify themes and relationships between data points.