For the first time in the nation’s history, Canada is home to more senior citizens than children – a never-before-seen demographic shift with implications across all aspects of society.
However, a dearth of data-literate graduates means Canada may be ill-prepared to fully analyze, assess and address the spectrum of policy and ethical implications related to this shift.
Toward that end, young researchers across Canada will be encouraged to develop those skills through a $2.5-million collaborative training grant for graduate students at Canadian universities.
Western Sociology professors Rachel Margolis and Anna Zajacova have joined experts at 32 university and partner institutions on The Consortium on Analytics for Data-Driven Decision-Making (CAnD3): Developing Talent for Population Analytics in Aging Societies.
“We know that we are raising PhDs in social sciences who have limited expertise in data analysis,” Zajacova said. “There are a lot of highly trained people, but there’s a real bottleneck where there isn’t enough training in data analysis.”
The grant provides training for students to conduct age-related data analyses and learn how to communicate its implications to policy-makers. Some of the funding is set aside for scholarships for student trainees, who will also share their research with each other, Zajocova said.
It is important work at an important time, the researchers explained.
“The aging demographic isn’t just a Canadian phenomenon. It’s a worldwide trend,” Zajacova said. “Humanity has never had an age structure like this. Full stop.”
The implications of Baby Boomers aging extend well beyond the needs of the emerging generation of seniors. They’ll remain priorities for all subsequent generations, with implications on everything from health care and social security nets, to housing and labour, to immigration, education and more.
A deeper understanding of the complexity of these challenges and of their potential solutions will need to be clearly explained, researchers stressed.
“These new demographers will need to know how to communicate complex concepts to politicians, policy-makers, bureaucrats and institutions – and not necessarily in an academic setting,” Margolis said. “This is about public access and use.”
Funded through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant, the six-year training partnership is led by McGill researcher Amelie Quesnel-Vallee.