There was a recent piece in the New York Times on Italy’s economic situation and how its high unemployment rate and stagnant economy appears to have led to a return of Italian emigration. This story struck a personal chord given my own parents came to Canada during the post World War Two wave of immigration. While current Italian emigration it is not near the levels of the 1950s and 1960s, about 400,000 university graduates have left over the last decade. This is quite different from the out migration of the past, which saw the outflow of mainly unskilled labor. This represents an outflow of valuable human capital and the departure of future potential economic growth and innovation. It also reminded me that we have seen this before in Canadian economic history.
The period prior to 1900 was viewed as a period of stagnation by contemporaries and witnessed substantial migration by Canadians to the United States. The absolute numbers of Canadian-born residents of the United States grew from 147,711 in 1850 to 1,204,637 by 1910 as between 1850 and 1920 nearly two million Canadians immigrated to the United States.A paper by Jackson (1923) notes the following: "The Americans may say with truth," wrote Goldwin Smith' in 1891, "that if they do not annex Canada, they are annexing the Canadians. They are annexing the very flower of the Canadian population, and in the way most costly to the country from which it is drawn, since the men whom that country has been at the expense of breeding leave it just as they arrive at manhood and begin to produce."(27-28). Indeed, according to the IPUMS five percent census sample for the year 1900, 1.64 percent of the US population was Canadian born and Canadians made up 12 percent of the foreign born population. This outflow of Canadians is quite significant when compared to the size of the Canadian population at the time. Vedder and Gallaway (1970) note that whereas in 1950, the Canadian-born living in the United States represented 6.2 percent of Canada’s population, in 1900 it was 22 percent.
Now the concern that your population is too small in a world that is often considered overpopulated may seem strange but large populations can be the source of economies of scale and agglomeration economies provided there is the resource base and institutions to sustain it. In Canada’s case, being a long thin country with isolated clumps of population scattered in a 100 km band along the US border has posed transportation and economic challenges of its own. It would be interesting to think about what Canada’s population might be like if all that migration to the United States had been retained.
Take a look at the accompanying figure. I have taken Canada’s population in 1910 of 6.988 million people and added to it another 1.204 million people – the number of Canadian born living in the United States in 1910. I then let the population grow at 1.6 percent annually from 1910 to 2012 – the average annual rate of population growth that occurred in Canada between 1910 and 2012. I plot both Canada’s actual population and this counterfactual population in the accompanying figure. By 2012, the counterfactual Canadian population is 41.477 million people compared to 34.880 million people. The country’s population would be almost 20 percent larger – about another 6.6 million people. That is like adding another GTA and then some to Canada. What the impacts might have been on our urban centers and internal market size and subsequent economic development is an interesting question.
Jackson, G.E. (1923) “Emigration of Canadians to the United States,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 107, Social and Economic Conditions in the Dominion of Canada, 25-34.
Ruggles, E. J. Trent Alexander, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Matthew B. Schroeder, Matthew Sobek. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS): Version 5.0 [Machine-readable Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010.
Vedder, R.K. and L.E. Gallaway (1970) “Settlement Patterns of Canadian emigrants to the United States, 1850-1960,” Canadian Journal of Economics, 3,3, 476-486.