No housing-related ‘brain drain’ from Metro Vancouver, says analyst

More young professionals are coming to the region than are leaving it, according to Census data

It has been frequently reported that the high cost of housing is driving the region’s young professionals into a mass exodus to find more affordable homes in less expensive regions – but that’s a myth, according to one data analyst.

Jens von Bergmann, founder of Vancouver-based analytics firm MountainMath, crunched Census data between 2006 and 2016 and found more young professionals – defined as those with at least a bachelor’s degree – arriving in the Vancouver Census Metroplitan Area (CMA) than leaving it.

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Von Bergmann broke down the numbers of people with bachelor’s degrees and those without in each of the 2006, 2011 and 2016 Census reports, within three age groups. He found that in the Vancouver CMA, all but one of those cohorts increased in number during that time – and population growth was highest among young people with bachelor’s degrees (see chart below). The only cohort to slightly decrease in population in the Vancouver CMA during that decade was those aged 50-59 without bachelor’s degrees.

“Young people with university degrees continued to arrive in greater numbers than they left well through their thirties and on into their forties,” wrote von Bergmann in his blog on the topic.

Von Bergmann MountainMath net migration by education level
Census data on net migration in four Canadian metropolitan areas by education level, between 2006 and 2016. Source: doodles.mountainmath.ca

In an interview on CBC radio, von Bergmann said, “Of course people are leaving, but they are getting replaced, and then some. So there’s no shortage of professionals here. People move, for opportunities, for jobs, for whatever reason. But it seems here in Metro Vancouver, we don’t interpret these as stories of opportunity, we interpret them of stories of loss. We have a natural bias towards this. The people that we know, who have been here a long time, we see them leaving – we don’t see the people who are coming, who we don’t know.”

Von Bergmann pointed out that there are high levels of job vacancies in the region, but most of them are lower-skilled jobs such as those in the retail and restaurant industries, not higher-paid professional jobs. “It’s a huge problem,” he told CBC.

Von Bergmann concluded in his blog: “We do not have to worry about a ‘brain drain’ in growing cities like Vancouver. Moreover, we don’t have to worry about professionals leaving. Due to better pay, professionals are better equipped to deal with a tight housing market than most others… But it’s the poor and working class we should really be worried about losing. More housing can lead to a more equitable city with room for people who aren’t well-paid professionals or independently wealthy. And if we want to prevent displacement, we should focus more on those actually at risk. That suggests both building more and promoting a LOT more non-market and rental housing.”

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