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Luso-Canadian communities nowadays: analysing census data
Ana Gherghel and Josiane Le Gall

These data show particular characteristics and gendered differences within Luso-Canadian communities as well as disparities compared to the Canadian overall population in important life domains, such as education, occupation, employment and income.


Portuguese migration waves to Canada mostly deployed between the mid-1950s to mid-1970s, diminishing afterwards (Oliveira & Teixeira 2004, Brettell 2003, Teixeira & da Rosa 2000: 6, Williams & Fonseca 1999, Oliveira 1996, Chapin 1989, Alpalho & da Rosa 1979, Anderson 1974). This phenomenon involved an important part of Portugal’s population and had a long-lasting impact on demographic structures of the origin country (Rocha 1991, 2008). In this article, we present a socio-demographic portrait of the Portuguese and their descendants in Canada nowadays – trying to map the Luso-Canadian communities based on demographic data[i]. Using data extracted from the 2006 Census database (Statistics Canada), we analyzed various socio-demographic characteristics of the population of Portuguese origin in Canada and several provinces. Then we compared these characteristics with those for the Canadian population in general. In this text, a compilation of some selected characteristics is presented, the most salient results of our analysis, namely data regarding the size and geographic distribution of Luso-Canadian communities, citizenship, generational composition, as well as comparative data about education, occupation, and income measures. Several significant differences between women and men are also underlined. This analysis points out distinctive elements of Luso-Canadian communities and suggests various disparities compared to the Canadian population.

Immigration, citizenship and generation status

At the 2006 Canadian Census, 410 850 persons declared to be of Portuguese ethnic origin. Overall in Canada, for most of them (63,8%), it is the only ethnic origin, while for a third (36,2%) it is a multiple one (Portuguese and at least another origin). This reflects the situation of the population situated in the provinces Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba, but in the rest of the provinces and territories, the reverse is observed – higher proportions of multiple answers than single ones. The overwhelming majority of Portuguese origin population is registered in the provinces of Ontario (68,8%), Quebec (14,0%) and British Columbia (8,4%) that totalize together 91,3%. Therefore, our following analyses are conducted on these three provinces that regroup the most important part of Luso-Canadians.


The majority of Portuguese populations in Canada (51,6%) are Canadian-born, being recorded in the category of non-immigrants. This proportion is lower for the province of Ontario and higher for British Columbia. Among the immigrant population[ii] of Portuguese origin, the most important part (83,8%) is settled in Canada for a long time, before 1991. During the period 1991 to 2000, about 11,2% immigrants are recorded and the proportion of recent immigrants – after 2001 – is lower (5%). The proportions of immigrant population are respectively higher for the province of Ontario (49,7%) and lower for British Columbia (42,9%) and Quebec (45,4%).


The ancient character of Portuguese migration to Canada is also reflected by the fact that the large majority of Portuguese population (about 90% in all provinces) detains Canadian citizenship and for most of them, it is the only one. About 10% of the population of Portuguese ethnic origin are not Canadian citizens.

 In Canada, of the total population of Portuguese origin aged 15 and over, more than half (61,5%) are of first generation, 32,1% are of second generation[iii] and 6,5% are of third generation. However the situation is different among various provinces and reflects the evolution in time of migration waves and their destinations[iv]. The province of Ontario regroups most of the first generation and respectively the proportion of first generation within the province is more important (64,3%) than in the other provinces. Accordingly, the proportion of the third generation is lower in this province. On the contrary, in the provinces of Quebec and British Columbia, a more important proportion of third generation Luso-descendants is recorded. In other words, if the first generation is principally regrouped in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, the second and third generations, of Luso-Canadian descendants, are much more dispersed. This situation shapes other inter-provincial differences observed, like those with regard to education.

Portuguese origin population have lower levels of school attainment than Canadian total population and work mainly on sales and service occupations

An important proportion (38,2%) of Portuguese population in Canada has no certificate, diploma or degree. A quarter (25,3%) has a high school certificate or equivalent, 8,6% have an apprenticeship or trades certificate or diploma, while 14,3% have non-university degree and 13,6% have a university degree. Few differences between women and men are recorded. However differences between provinces are notable. In the province of Ontario where older population predominant of first generation is more important, the proportion of persons without certificate or diploma reaches the highest level and proportions of persons having a university or college diplomas are lower than in the provinces of Quebec and British Columbia.


Compared to the Canadian total population, the Portuguese origin population displays higher proportions of persons without certificates or diplomas and lower proportions of individuals with college and university degrees. This trend is observed for the population in all three provinces analyzed.


 The majority of Portuguese population is concentrated in three occupation sectors: sales and services (26,5%), trades, transports and equipment operators (19,4%) and business, finance and administrative occupations (18,3%). Although some inter-provincial variations are remarked, these trends are similar in all three provinces.


Women are over-represented in professions associated to business, finance and administrative, in social science, education, government service occupations, as well as in the health sectors. Men are mostly involved in trades, transports and equipment operators domain.

Activity and employment rates are significantly higher for men than women of Portuguese origin and they are superior to those of the Canadian total population (which are 66,8 and respectively 62,4). Unemployment rates of Portuguese origin women and men are comparable, and they are lower than those of the total Canadian population (which is 6,6 in 2005).

Analysing the income

Significant disparities between women and men are recorded in all provinces and for Canada with regard to median and average employment income, earnings of women being inferior to those of men. The lowest average and medium incomes are recorded for the province of Quebec, while the highest are observed for Ontario.

Average employment incomes of Portuguese origin population are inferior to those of the total Canadian population, but medium employment incomes are superior, both for women and men.


Examining other variables related to income measures, several other differences are observed. For instance, the prevalence of low income[v] before tax is in all situations higher than that after tax, both for economic families and persons not in economic families. In all situations, the prevalence of low income is higher for women than men and the highest level is observed for Quebec. At the same time, the prevalence of low income before and after tax for persons not in economic families is higher than for the economic family members.

Similar trends with regard to gender differences are observed for Canadian total population. Women not in economic families have the higher prevalence of low income of all the other categories.

Compared to the Canadian total population, the incidence of low income before and after tax for economic family members is lower for Portuguese origin population (10,3% and respectively 7,4% compared to 11,9% and respectively 8,6% for Canadians). At the opposite, for persons not in economic families, the Canadian total population has lower rates than the Portuguese origin population.

These data show particular characteristics and gendered differences within Luso-Canadian communities as well as disparities compared to the Canadian overall population in important life domains, such as education, occupation, employment and income. Authors like F. Nunes (1998) advanced specific theses explaining, for instance, disparities related to education performance between Luso-Canadians and overall Canadian populations. In conclusion, our analysis suggests that intergenerational and gendered differences among Luso-Canadian communities also need to be investigated furthermore in order to be better understood.    

Ana Gherghel is a researcher at the Centro de Estudos Sociais da Universidade dos Açores, Portugal and Josiane Le Gall is a researcher at the Centre de Santé et Services Sociaux de la Montagne, Montreal, Canada.
Contact information: Ana Gherghel, Investigadora, Centro de Estudos Sociais da Universidade dos Açores (CES-UA) Departamento de História, Filosofia e Ciências Sociais, Universidade dos Açores Rua da Mãe de Deus, Ap. 1422, 9501-855 Ponta Delgada, Açores Email : agherghel@uac.pt Tel.: (+351) 296 650 583. 

[i] This work is part of a project financed through national funds by the FCT - Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia within the project «Intergenerational solidarities in transnational families. A case study on the Azorean migrants in Quebec (Canada) - PTDC/CS-SOC/109910/2009».

[ii] Immigrants are persons who are, or have ever been, landed immigrants in Canada (i.e. person who has been granted the right to live in Canada permanently by immigration authorities) (Statistics Canada, 2006 Census Dictionary, Catalogue no. 92-566-X).

[iii] 1st generation refers to persons born outside Canada; 2nd generation refers to persons born inside Canada with at least one parent born outside Canada and 3rd generation or more includes persons born inside Canada with both parents born inside Canada (these persons may have grandparents born inside or outside Canada as well) (Statistics Canada, 2006 Census Dictionary, Catalogue no. 92-566-X).

[iv] The destination of the most important migratory waves during the 1960s and 1970s are the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

[v] The prevalence of low income after tax is the proportion or the percentage of economic families or persons 15 years of age and over not in economic families who spend 20% or more of their after-tax income than the average on food, shelter and clothing. These prevalence rates are calculated from unrounded estimates of economic families and persons not in economic families. Economic family refers to a group of two or more persons who live in the same dwelling and are related to each other by blood, marriage, common-law or adoption. A couple may be of opposite or same sex. Foster children are included. In a similar way, the prevalence of low income can be calculated based on before tax income. They are calculated based on a given classification below the low income after (or before) tax cut-offs (LICO). «Since their initial publication, Statistics Canada has clearly and consistently emphasized that the LICOs are not measures of poverty. .Rather, LICOs reflect a consistent and well-defined methodology that identifies those who are substantially worse off than average. These measures have enabled Statistics Canada to report important trends, such as the changing composition of those below the LICOs over time.» For more information about these measures, see 2006 Census Dictionary (Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 92-566-X, pp. 142-146).  


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