The impact of immigration on local ethnic groups' demographic representativeness: The case study of ethnic French Canadians in Quebec


L'étude qui annonce que les Canadiens français seront minoritaires au Québec en 2040


The purpose of this research was to investigate the impact of immigration on local ethnic groups' demographic weight (DW) by presenting a case study. In this study, the ethnic French Canadians (EFC), a group that makes up the majority of the Province of Quebec, were studied to evaluate the impact of immigration on their DW. It was found that EFC transitioned from a DW of 79% in 1971 to a DW of 64.5% in 2014; projections predict that EFC would decrease to a DW of 45% in 2050. Moreover, 45 immigration rate scenarios and total fertility rates were projected; it was found that immigration level and fertility level could be jointly classified into three categories related to their effect on ethno‐demographic decrease; one of these categories may help suggest a quantitative definition for the concept of mass immigration.


According to the Wiley‐Blackwell Encyclopedia of Globalization, mass migration “differs from individual migration in the sheer numbers of people involved.” Three major periods of mass migration can be identified; the first period where European migration to the new world followed Christopher Columbus discovery of the Americas; the second linked to the Industrial Revolution where a new wave of European migration to the Americas occurred; and the last period of migration in the post 1965 era, characterized by immigration from less industrialized countries to more industrialized countries (Pok, 2012).

The current era of mass migration from third world countries to developed nations is an interesting subject for demographers; it is a politically hot topic. Few demographers have asked what the long‐term impact of the current period of mass migration will be on host countries' ethnic composition. One of them, Professor David Coleman of Oxford University, had published extensively on the subject (Coleman, 2002; Coleman, 2003; Coleman, 2006a; Coleman, 2006b; Coleman, 2007; Coleman, 2008; Coleman, 2009; Coleman, 2010; Coleman, Compton, & John, 2002); his research focuses on western European countries and puts a particular emphasis on the United Kingdom. Coleman stated that “most academic discussion of migration concentrates upon its effects on the economy, labour force and ‘race relations’. Less attention is paid to the effects on total population: its size, structure and its ethnic or national composition” (Coleman, 2003). In his literature review, he highlighted the fact that 15% to 30% of the population of western European countries will be represented by first‐ and second‐generation immigrants (Coleman, 2008) by the mid‐21st century; his projection predicted that the White British population would fall to below 56% of the United Kingdom's population in 2056 (Coleman, 2010). In France, the demographer Michèle Tribalat estimated, for the year 1999, that 24% of France population aged between 1 and 60 years old were first‐, second‐, or third‐generation immigrants (Tribalat, 2004); according to the author, this would be the highest rate in Europe.

In 2015, Tribalat updated her analysis with the 2011 French census where the French definition of the term “foreign origin” changed which yielded results easier to compare with other European countries; she estimated for the year 2011 that first‐ and second‐generation immigrants comprised 19.2% of France's total population while the first, second, and third generation made up 30% of the total. The author also highlighted that the definition of “foreign origin” has an important impact on the results; for example, Norway's foreign origin population of 2011 would be 12.2% according to Denmark's definition while it would be 17.2% according to the Netherlands' definition. Using national statistics institutes, Tribalat calculated for the first‐ and second‐generation immigrants' share of the population of Sweden, France, Austria, Netherland, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, England, and Belgium in 2011 and obtained, respectively, 26.0%, 19.2%, 18.7%, 21.1%, 17.2%, 10.1%, 18.5, 19.5%, 20.2%, and 24.2% for these countries (Tribalat, 2015). Another study concluded that people who migrated to Europe after 2004 and their descendants will represent more than half of the population at childbearing age by 2054 in some European countries (Ediev, Coleman, & Scherbov, 2014). In the United States, the Pew Research Center tabulated data from the American decennial census of 1960, 1985, 2001, and 2017 and concluded that the boomer generation, when they were aged 21 to 36 years old, were 75% white, while the millennium generation, when compared at the same age, were 56% white, which highlights the fact that mass migration, mainly from Mexico, is changing the ethnic composition of the American population (Pew Research Center, 2018). Smith and Edmontson showed that non‐Hispanic whites made up 83% of the U.S. population in 1970; their projections predicted that this group would fall to 51% in 2050 (Smith & Edmonston, 1997).

Canada, a confederation of provinces created in 1867, traces its origins to the colonization of the shores of the St‐Lawrence River by French settlers between 1608 and 1760. Then, after the British conquest, immigrants from the British Isles settled in the colony. Immigration to Canada originated almost exclusively from Europe until the 1960's when immigration restrictions based on country of origin were lifted. By 1970, most recent immigrants were non‐European; in 1971, Canada proclaimed multiculturalism to be its integration policy (Reitz, 2012; Statistics Canada, 2016). Canada being amongst the countries receiving the most immigrants per capita (Chagnon 2013), it is expected to experience a marked shift in its ethnic background during the 21th century. According to an official projection, by 2036, between 44.2% and 49.7% of Canadians will be first‐generation and second‐generation immigrants, and between 82.2% and 84.6% of these first‐ or second‐generation immigrants will be of non‐European origin (Morency, Malenfant, & MacIsaac, 2017). If the developed world's ethnic background is going to change significantly during the current century, then, thanks to its high migration level, Canada will be the amongst the first in which this will occur. Thus, Canada can be considered a live laboratory to study the impact of mass migration on a country's ethnic background.

Within Canada, the French Canadians, an ethnic minority in Canada, have had a long history of struggling to preserve their cultural identity and language. For example, after the Rebellion of 1837–1838, the British Crown had sent Lord Durham to investigate the causes of the rebellion; one of Durham's recommendation in his report, “Report on the Affairs of British North America” (Lambton, 1839), was to assimilate the French Canadians to the British culture by increasing immigration from Great Britain to Canada; although British immigration to Canada was high, French Canadians' elevated total fertility rate (TFR) prevented their demographic marginalization and subsequent assimilation. The French Canadians, whose origins lie in the colonization of New France (Vézina, Tremblay, Desjardins, & Houde, 2005), had maintained a status of ethnic majority in the Province of Quebec since the British's conquest. The study of the evolution of the ethnic French Canadian (EFC) population, which is facing low fertility at the same time as its Quebec base has a high immigration rate, makes an interesting case study for the observation of the impact of mass migration on local ethnic groups' demographic weight (DW). As a matter of perspective, in 2016, there were 84,642 births in Quebec compared to 52,205 newly arrived immigrants (Statistics Canada, 2019); these two figures alone should give an insight into a predictable future. Note that the term demographic weight (DW) as used here describes an ethnic group's share of a territory (in this case, Quebec's) total population.

This could have multiple social implications in the province of Quebec, one of them being the hot topic of language policy. As the DW of immigrants increases in the province, one may wonder, what will happen to the French language in Quebec? The fact that Quebec's population of about 8 million is approximately 80% francophone (French mother tongue) and surrounded by about 350 million anglophones located in other Canadian provinces and the United States is important. Thus, immigrants entering Quebec may well assimilate to the English language, particularly in Montreal, the provincial metropole. The linguistic question is a central theme in Quebec politics since the province's parliament passed laws concerning the use of the French language in the workplace, in education, and in public spaces (Woolfson, 1983; Hamers & Hummel, 1994; Termote, 2015; Bilodeau, 2016; Kircher 2016; Bourhis & Sioufi, 2017). The use of French is strongly influenced by the DW of the EFC (Maheu, 1973) as well as the assimilation of immigrants to the French language (Ouellette, 2011).

The main objective of this study is to evaluate the impact of immigration on the EFC DW. This main objective obviously includes the following questions. Are the EFC converging toward a minority status? If yes, when and at what rate? As of today, what portion of the Quebec population is represented by EFC? What was the past impact of immigration on EFC representativeness? On the quantitative level, how do we define mass immigration? Answers to these questions will have multiple social implications, including the preservation of the French language in Quebec.

Regarding the EFC share in the province, as absurd as it may seem, this has not been enumerated for the past 50 years. Recent census data cannot be used to determine the EFC DW since French Canadians can identify themselves as Quebecers, French, Canadians, or French Canadians; other ethnic groups would also identify as Quebecers, French, or Canadian; moreover, individuals can identify with more than one ethnic category (Statistics Canada, 2006). And the linguistic approach cannot be used to indirectly determine EFC DW either since 48% of all immigrants have adopted French (Castonguay, 1997) including 40% for first‐generation allophone (non‐English, non‐French) immigrants (Castonguay, 2002) and 61% for second‐generation allophone immigrants (Bélanger, Sabourin, & Lachapelle, 2011). The most reliable data dates from the 1971 census where the ethnic origin question was answered based on firm choices rather than from self‐identification as found in later censuses. In parallel, ethnic‐based demography was still common in the 1970s. The demographer Robert Maheu discussed the future of linguistic groups in Quebec, underlining the fact that the French language legacy was closely link to the proportion of EFC. Maheu showed that, in 1971, the EFC made up 79.0% of Quebec's population while 80.7% of Quebecers spoke French (Maheu, 1973). However, not long after, demographers shifted their attention to linguistic demography (Duchesne, 1980; Lachapelle & Henripin, 1980; Paillé, 2011; Robitaille, Bourbeau, Girard, & Tremblay, 1992; Termote, 2001).

Regarding the fate of the EFC majority in the province, the closest answer to this question was obtained in 1987 when the demographer Jacques Henripin projected the DW of the descendants of Quebecers of 1981 for the year 2081 (Henripin & Pelletier, 1986; Henripin & Pelletier, 1987). Henripin concluded that if the TFR of Quebecers was maintained at 1.6 and if immigration was used to prevent Quebec's population decline, 24% of Quebecers of 2081 would descend from Quebecers of 1981 while the balance, 76%, would be from immigrant sources. Henripin did not focus on the EFC as he took the entire population of Quebec of 1981 (EFC and non‐EFC), which he compared with the post‐1981 immigrants to examine the relative weight of each in the 2081 population. The current study goes beyond Henripin's by investigating the past impact of immigration on the EFC DW, from 1971 to 2014, which was impossible at the time of Henripin; then, it focuses strictly on the demographic evolution of the French Canadian ethnic group, a subject which has not been studied for the last 50 years.


2.1 Terminology and main assumptions

The EFCs are the main subject of this study. They are the descendants of the French settlers arrived between 1608 and 1760. It is understood that the French Canadians born before 1965 have about 5% of their genealogical background coming from First Nations, Ireland, Great Britain, and from other European countries (Vézina et al., 2005). Table 1 present the genealogical background of EFC born between 1945 and 1965; it is a summary of Vézina et al., 2005 study.

Table 1. EFC genealogic origin for individual born between 1945 and 1965

Genetic contribution (%) Male Female
France 90.8 88.7
Great Britain 1.9 1
Germany 0.5 0.2
Ireland 0.6 0.5
Other Europeans countries 1.4 0.6
Acadia 3.6 6.4
First Nations 0.8 1.9
Unknown 0.4 0.7

  • Note. EFC, ethnic French Canadian.

In this study, the EFC definition is aligned with the 1971 census ethnic origin response to the question: To what ethnic or cultural group did you or your ancestor (on the male side) belong on coming to this continent? (Statistics Canada, 1974a). From this question, only one answer could be provided amongst a list of twelve ethnic groups: British Isles, French, German, Italian, Jewish, Netherlands, Polish, Scandinavian, Ukrainian, Asian groups, Indian and Eskimo, Other, and unknown. Therefore, those who responded “French” ethnic group to the 1971 census are considered EFCs. It shall be observed that the EFC definition, based on the paternal ancestor, in accordance with the 1971 census, is irrelevant on an individual basis since one can have a very mixed ethnic background with very few EFC ancestors while still being associated to the EFC group. However, on a population basis, the definition opens the door for ethnic‐based demographic projections while dodging the need to draw the line between who is EFC and who is not. In agreement with the statement that EFC are descendants of French settlers arrived before 1760, immigrants from France arriving after 1971 will not be added to the EFC group. The objective is to emphasize the impact of immigration on local ethnic groups where the phenomenon applies to the French Canadians. This is a case study that can be generalized and may help understand a worldwide phenomenon.

The term “Quebecer” shall be defined as the inhabitant of the Canadian province of Quebec and should not be confused with the term EFC.

The term “immigrant” is defined differently across different countries (Tribalat, 2015). This study refers to immigrants arrived after 1971 and their descendants (IAD), irrespective of their assimilation or integration, or to the fact that most of them acquire Canadian citizenship within a few years. In other studies and in many official statistical agencies, the term “immigrant” is often used for first‐generation immigration, and the term “foreign origin” is often used for first‐ and second‐generation immigrants combined. The discrepancy between these two terms can be seen in table 6 of Ediev and co‐author study of 2014. Discrepancy between definitions of the same term is made evident when the same data are analysed with various definitions; see table 9 of Michèle Tribalat article of 2015.

Understanding that EFC represented a portion of Quebec's population in 1971, the rest of the population of 1971 was arbitrary placed in a group called the non‐French Canadian (NFC). This group consists mainly of the English‐speaking community, immigrants, and their descendants arrived before 1971, and first nations.

The term DW used in this study is simply the demographic representativeness in percent of an ethnic group compared to the total population. If an ethnic group makes 20% of the total population, then its DW is 20%.

The term mass immigration will not be defined at this stage since a quantitative approach to discriminate immigration from mass immigration will be proposed in the result and discussion section.

2.2 Method overview

Quebec's population was divided into three sub‐populations: the EFC, the NFC, and the IAD. The EFC, NFC, and IAD demographic changes are going to be presented in the result section. For calculation purposes, however, four groups will be used: group A, the EFC; group B, the NFC; group C, first generation immigrants; and group D, later generation of immigrants.

The calculation from 1971 to 2014 and the projection from 2014 to 2050 follow a cohort‐component population model such as described by Bohnert, Chagnon, Coulombe, Dion, and Marte (2015). As a starting point, Statistics Canada 1971 census population data for the Province of Quebec divided by ethnic origins, by genders, and by age groups was used. Using the age schedule calculated from CANSIM table 051‐0001 for the year 1971 (Statistics Canada, 2015a), the census date age group were furthermore divided in age group of 1 year. According to the previous definitions, the IAD DW is 0% in 1971. Immigration from 1971 to 2014, by cohorts of single years of age, and by gender, is retrieved from CANSIM table 051‐0011 (Statistics Canada, 2015c). Then, predicted immigration from 2014 to 2050 is input. The projections are programed in a MATLAB script where iterative calculations are performed on cohorts of single years of age, divided by gender and by population sub‐group (sub‐groups A, B, C, or D such as described earlier). The general sequences of iterations of the cohort‐component population model such as calculated are as follows:

  1. Male and female births from the previous years are added to the 1 year old cohort of the current year. It is done by multiplying each female cohort of the previous year by the age‐specific fertility rate (ASFR).

  2. For each cohort of the current year, the population of the corresponding cohort 1 year younger from the previous year is added.

  3. The population of each cohort is multiplied by the age‐ and gender‐specific mortality rates (ASMR).

  4. Then, for each age cohort, immigrants, divided by gender, are added (only applicable to population sub‐group C).

  5. Finally, each cohort are multiplied by a factor that account for emigration, interprovincial migration, and returning emigrants.

Data acquired from Statistics Canada, Institut de la Statistique du Québec, and from other references are compiled in Supplementary Data File 1. The data used as input for the MATLAB script are compiled in Supplementary Data File 2.

2.3 Components of population growth calculation

2.3.1 Birth calculation

The number of births, for each sub‐population, is obtained by multiplying, for each female age cohort, by the female ASFRs. The ASFR was obtained from the official Quebec statistics agency for the years 1971 to 2014 (Institut de la Statistique du Québec, 2015a); was normalized to a TFR of 1; and then was proportionally adjusted from 1971 to 2014 using the TFR associated with individuals born in Canada or born outside Canada.

For the groups born in Quebec (groups A, B, and D), the TFR for the range of 1971 to 2014 is obtained from Institut de la Statistique du Québec (2015a). It was previously demonstrated that second‐generation immigrant TFR is similar to the local population (Street, 2009). For the first‐generation immigrants (group C), the TFR from 1971 to 2000 is obtained from Institut de la Statistique du Québec (2015b), and for the years 2001 to 2014, the average of the previous years was used. For the projection from 2015 to 2050, the TFR for the group born in Canada (A, B, and D) is set at 1.6, which is an average of the previous years; for the group born outside Canada (group C), a TFR of 2.0, an historical average which has been historically stable, is used. Later on, a sensitivity analysis will evaluate the impact of over or underestimation of these hypotheses.

2.3.2 Death calculation

The number of deaths, for each sub‐population, by gender, is obtained by multiplying each age cohort by the age‐specific mortality rates (ASMR) appropriate for each gender. The ASMR, specific to each year, from 1971 to 2014, was obtained by comparing population table 051‐0001 and death table 051‐0002 obtained from CANSIM (Statistics Canada, 2015a2015b). The four sub‐populations used the same year specific ASMR. Following the trends of increasing life expectancy, the ASMRs from 2014 to 2050 were estimated through exponential curve fitting from 1971 to 2014, extrapolating to 2050. ASMR variation in the future is uncertain as, for example, some authors predict a decline (Olshansky et al., 2005). For simplicity, it was assumed that all sub‐population groups had the same life expectancy; interestingly, it may be possible that first‐generation immigrants had higher life expectancy than the second generation (Bourbeau, 2002).

2.3.3 Effect of intermarriage

According the EFC definition used in this study, the ethnic origin is based on the male paternal ancestry. A man from the EFC group who marries a woman from the IAD group will father children attributed to the EFC group; on the contrary, a woman from the EFC group marrying a man from the IAD group will give birth to children associated with the IAD group. And thus, paternal EFC line are not stopped by intermarriage according to our definition. Therefore, it is not required to calculate the effect of intermarriage. This is only valid considering the assumption that immigration is balanced between men and woman, which is true. From 1971 to 2014, 50.5% of all immigrants were men.

2.3.4 Immigration

From 1971 to 2014, immigrants, by gender and single years of age, are retrieved from table 051‐0011 from CANSIM (Statistics Canada, 2015c). Figure 1 shows the age pyramid for immigrants arrived in 1971, 1993, and 2014.


image Figure 1

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Age pyramid for immigrants arrived in 1971 (dashed line), 1993 (continuous line), and 2014 (doted line). Female on the left‐hand side and male on the right‐hand side

Then, from 2015 to 2050, immigration is added. One way to present projections is by using low, medium, and high scenarios of the quantity of immigrants, as done by Quebec officials (Institut de la Statistique du Québec, 2014); the other method is to use a proportional rate (Statistics Canada, 2010). For this study, a proportional rate of immigration was used; historical data show that immigration is roughly proportional to Quebec's population, with a coefficient of determination of 0.67 (see Figure 2). From 2014 to 2050, immigration was calculated as the total population multiplied by 0.0178 minus 93,000 (see linear regression, Figure 2). It is assumed that there is an infinite supply of acceptable immigration willing to emigrate to the province of Quebec.


image Figure 2

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Annual immigration as a function of Quebec's population. Historical immigration (dashed line) and linear regression (continuous line) are illustrated

2.3.5 Immigration retention rate

The immigration retention rate (IRR) used in this study differs from the Statistics Canada definition. The IRR of Statistics Canada “is calculated as those residents in a province in 2006 minus those originally destined to the province as a proportion of those originally destined.” In this study, the immigrants whose first destination was another province, but who ended settling in Quebec, were included. According to a Canadian study from 1991 to 2006, the IRR for the Province of Quebec would be 79%, with a rise to 87% when including immigrants whose first destination was another province (Myers, 2010). Thus, to account for IRR, immigrants that are added to group C will be multiplied by 0.87.

2.3.6 Emigration, emigrant return, and interprovincial migration

Except for group C where emigration, emigration return, and interprovincial migration (EEIM) are included in the immigrant retention rate, groups A, B, and D cohorts are multiplied, for each iteration, by a factor accounting for EEIM. This factor is simply obtained by iterating its value and converging the total projected population to the actual total population from 1971 to 1981; this could be resumed as a calibration process.


3.1 I—Demographic evolution from 1971 to 2014

From 1971 to 2014, it is observed that the EFCs population of Quebec had increased by 0.25% per year from 4.76 to 5.31 million individuals while the total Quebec population's growth was 0.7% per year from 6.03 to 8.21 million people. During these years, it is observed that the EFC DW decreased from 79% in 1971 to 64.5% in 2014 (Figure 3). Immigrants arriving after 1971 and their descendants (IAD) added 1.62 million individuals to Quebec's population and are responsible for 74% of Quebec's population increase during this period. This is higher than what was observed in France and the United Kingdom; immigration to France was responsible for 40% of the population increase from 1950 to 1986 (Tribalat, Garson, Moulier‐Boutang, & Silberman, 1991) in the United Kingdom, immigration accounted for 30% of the total population growth from 1951 to 1995 (Coleman et al., 2002). In short, from 1971 to 2014, EFC's reduced rate of population growth and the high IAD immigration rate are mainly responsible for the EFC DW decrease.


image Figure 3

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Demographic weight of ethnic French Canadian (EFC; continuous line), non‐French Canadian (NFC; doted line), immigrants arrived after 1971 and their descendants (IAD; dashed line)

Projections were compared to actual Statistics Canada data for method validation. According to CANSIM table 051‐0001, population of Quebec was 8.214 million individuals in 2014 (Statistics Canada., 2015a) while the projection from this study shows 8.208 million individuals; thus, the difference is neglectable, and the total population estimated by the method is considered accurate.

3.2 II—Demographic projection from 2014 to 2050

It is observed that Quebec's current ethnic group (both French and NFC) population reaches a plateau around the year 1990 and then starts to decline around 2020, as seen in Figure 4; this phenomenon can be compared to the non‐Hispanic white Americans who experience absolute decline from 2030 (Coleman, 2003). Around the year 2030, the EFC population's decline rate of change is at its highest. Afterward, the decline continues but at constant pace based on population's curve second derivative analysis; these phenomena may probably be attributed to the baby boomers reaching the end of their lives. By 2039, the EFC population falls to 4.6 million, the same as in 1971; by 2050, it reaches 4.3 million. In the meantime, the IAD sub‐population shows a constant increase, from 0.8 million in 2000, to 2.0 million in 2020, to 3.0 million in 2035, and then to 4.1 million in 2050. From 2014 to 2050, Quebec's net population increased by 1.25 million individuals; considering the EFC and NFC sub‐population decreases and considering that starting from the second generation, IAD fertility rate is similar to the native EFC and NFC (Street, 2009) sub‐populations, it can be deduced that Quebec population growth is largely driven by immigration, similarly to what has been observed in western Europe (Coleman, 2008).


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Quebec's demographics from 1971 to 2050. Ethnic French Canadian (EFC; continuous line), non‐French Canadian (NFC; doted lined), immigrants arrived after 1971 and their descendants (IAD; dashed line)

Considering that the EFC population is declining while the IAD's population is growing, EFC DW is expected to decrease. From 79% in 1971, to 64.5% in 2014, the EFC population reaches a DW of 50% in 2042; see Figure 3. By 2050, EFCs comprise just 45% of the province's population. In parallel, United States non‐Hispanic white population's DW was 83 % in 1970; projections from 1997 predict U.S. non‐Hispanic white DW would be 67% in 2010, 59% in 2030, and 51% in 2050 (Smith & Edmonston, 1997). A more recent study showed that U.S. non‐Hispanic white population's DW will fall to 50% between 2040 and 2045 (Ortman & Guarneri, 2009). In the United Kingdom, White British (including white Scottish and Irish) DW was 90% and 87%, respectively, for 2001 and 2006 and will decline to 72% and 56%, respectively, for 2031 and 2056 (Coleman, 2010). It is noteworthy that the United States non‐Hispanic white and the White British populations benefit numerically from white immigrants, which is not the case of the EFC due to the methodologies used here (which should not be taken as indicative of social realities in these places).

Projections were compared to actual Statistics Canada projections for method validation. According to the Statistics Canada projection for Canada between 2009 and 2036, there will be between 7.8 (low growth scenario) to 10.0 million (high growth scenario) individuals in Quebec in 2036 (Statistics Canada, 2010). In this study, we expect 9.06 million individuals in 2036. Population results thus match the official projection.

In order to evaluate the impact of different parameters on the projection results, each of the parameters (native‐born TFR, immigrant TFR, immigration rate, and immigrants' retention rate) was varied one at the time, and the year at which the EFC passed under the 50% DW threshold was inscribed in Table 2. Note that significant changes in native‐born TFR do not have a significant effect on the results; at a TFR of 1.1, the EFC passes the 50% threshold in 2042 while it passes the same threshold in 2043 when the TFR rises to 2.1. On the contrary, significant changes in immigration rate have important effects on the results. Lowering immigration to 30,000 pushes the “majority‐minority” point for EFCs out to 2056 while increasing it to 70,000 brings it forward to 2040.

Table 2. Sensitivity analysis on TFR, immigration rate, and immigrant retention rate for year 2014 to 2060 projections

Varied factors EFC DW under 50% at year:
Born in Canada TFR
1.1 2042
1.6a 2042
2.1 2043
Born outside Canada TFR
1.5 2045
2.0a 2042
2.5 2041
Immigration rate
Proportional ratea 2042
30 000 per year 2056
50 000 per year 2046
70 000 per year 2040
Immigrants retention rate
77% 2045
87%a 2042
97% 2040

  • Abbreviations: DW, demographic weight; EFC, ethnic French Canadian; TFR, total fertility rate.

  • a Base scenario per described method.

3.3 III—2042: Demographic turning point

The projection shows that the EFC DW decreases from 64.5 % in 2014 to 50% in 2042. One way to fully represent the dynamic behind this phenomenon is to look at the proportion of EFC for different age groups between 2014 and 2042, such as shown in Figure 5. The figure illustrates the combined effect of immigration rate, TFR, and other parameters on the EFC DW. First of all, in the portion of the graph where the EFC is above 70%, a plateau is observed (dark grey and black), which corresponds to the age group which was never demographically impacted; these individuals were over 25 years of age in 1971, which means they had coexisted with very few IADs due to low immigration rates for immigrants over 30 years old. Then, a peak wave is observed between 55% and 70%, which corresponds to the baby boomers; their large number and the fact that they only coexist with the first generation IADs result in insignificant demographic shifts for their age cohort over time. Then, the boomer wave peak is followed by a trough, corresponding to smaller “baby bust” generation due to a lower birth rate, namely, Generation X. Then, a new peak wave is formed, peaking at between 65% and 70% in 2014; it corresponds to the Y generation, numerous due to the fact that their parents—the boomers—are numerous. This last wave diminishes throughout the years since the EFC from this generation coexist with the first‐, second‐, and third‐generation IADs. It is also observed that less than half the under‐49 age group of 2042 are EFCs. The declining proportion of EFC amongst newborns is notable: 57% of newborns were in the EFC group in 2014, but they account for only 40% of babies in 2042, illustrating how the EFC majority of today is rapidly heading toward minority status.


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Ethnic French Canadian demographic weight by age and by years

In 2042, the EFC DW falls below 50%, making them no longer the majority, but rather the largest minority group in a province where no single group is in the majority. It is worth zooming in on the demographic data of 2042 since the ethnic population shift can be better appreciated. As observed in Figure 6, the IAD slightly outnumber the EFC within the 0–18 and 19–36 age groups while the EFC significantly outnumber the IAD in the 55–72 and the 72+ age cohorts. The EFC are on a slim majority in the 37 to 54 group.


image Figure 6

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Number of ethnic French Canadian and immigrants and their descendants according to various age group for the year 2042

Then, when the population age pyramid is constructed for the EFC and the IAD, multiple phenomena are observed (Figure 7). First, a constant slope is observed for the IAD from about 35 years of age to 90 years of age due to the fact immigration has been steady during these years, both for historical and projected data. Then, due to the fact immigrants are selected with an average age of 26 to 30 years old, because their age groups are constantly moved in the older age group and because new immigrants are constantly arriving, a bump is observed for the IAD between 25 and 44 years. This bump is located in a high fertility age interval which explains why the IAD newborns are in proportion at the same DW as the IAD of 35 years old. The cavity found around the IAD's 16 years old age group is explained by low immigration at this age in Canada, high immigration in the 26 to 30 years old age group, and high births from the 25 to 44 years group, which are more numerous each year. The inverse phenomenon is observed for the EFC newborns since most of the EFC population is in the 40 to 80 years old category and only a small proportion of the EFC are in the 20 to 40 (high fertility) age range. Thus, for the 0 to 20 years old age group, the EFC and the IAD have different age profiles. This phenomenon illustrates the fact that a small EFC proportion is in the high fertility childbearing age range (26% of the EFC age fall in the 15 to 40 age group) compared to the IAD population (36% of the IAD fall in the 15 to 40 age group). Other interesting phenomena are observed in the EFC age pyramid: the baby boomers aged between 70 and 90 years old are rapidly declining due to a high mortality rate; the baby boomers' children, born between 1975 and 1995, which make up a good proportion of the EFC of 2035, are not being replaced by a younger EFC generation, suggesting a rapid decline in EFC DW beyond 2042.

Outputs used to generate the results and the figures from section I to IV can be found in Supplementary Data File 3.


image Figure 7

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Age pyramid for the years 2042. Ethnic French Canadians (continuous line) and immigrants arrived after 1971 and their descendants (dashed line) are illustrated. Female on the left‐hand side and male on the right‐hand side

3.4 IV—Impact of immigration rate on DW decrease

One way to appreciate the effect of the immigration rate on the EFC DW is to evaluate multiple scenarios using different immigration rates and different TFRs for individuals born in Canada. Then, it is interesting to count how many years are required for the EFC DW to decrease by 1% under each of these scenarios. In order to eliminate the impact of past immigration fertility and births, immigration from 1971 to 2014 is removed from the calculation. Starting from 2014, the different fertility and immigration conditions are applied, and projections are calculated up to year 2500. All other assumptions are the same as described previously in the methodology.

Nine different immigration rates and five TFRs were used to generate forty‐five scenarios; for each scenario, the number of years required to decrease the EFC DW by 1% was produced (see Table 3). It was found for the five tested TFRs that the relationship between the immigration rate and the counted years followed a power law with a determination coefficient over 0.98. The power law is expressed by the following equation:


where y is the number of years required for EFC DW to decrease by 1%, where x is the immigration rate (immigrants per years), a and k being constants for a single TFR.

Table 3. Number of years required to reduce ethnic French Canadian population by 1% for different level immigration and fecundity

Number of years required for EFC's DW to decrease by 1%
Immigration rate (Immigrants/year) TFR = 1.6 TFR = 1.85 TFR = 2.1 TFR = 2.35 TFR = 2.6
312.5 124 154 210 365 N/A
625 86 99 121 162 283
1 250 58 62 68 78 95
2 500 38 39 41 43 46
5 000 24 24 25 26 26
10 000 13 13 13 14 14
20 000 7 7 7 7 7
40 000 3 3 3 3 3
80 000 2 2 2 2 2

  • Abbreviations: DW, demographic weight; EFC, ethnic French Canadian; TFR, total fertility rate.

Another interesting phenomenon is observed in the table: Three regions can be observed, the first one is highlighted in white, the second in grey, and the third in black. In the first region (in white), it is observed that both the TFR and the immigration rate has a significant impact on the EFC DW decrease. In the second region (in grey), it is observed that the immigration rate has a highly significant impact on the EFC DW decrease while TFR has little impact. The third region in (black) shows that the TFR has no impact while the immigration level drives the rate of EFC DW decrease. In parallel, it is also observed that the DW decrease is insignificant in the first region, low in the second region, and significant in the third region. Thus, these regions could be named according to their effect on the DW: “inconsequential region,” “low impact region,” and “significant impact region.”

This table is an elegant tool to determine if an ethnic group DW is being reduced at rapid rate. From this table, it could be proposed that immigration be defined as mass immigration when fertility and immigration levels fall into the “significant impact region.” In the case of the EFC of the province of Quebec, the current TFR is close to 1.6, and the immigration rate is around 50,000 immigrants per year, which indicates the effect of immigration on the EFC DW to be in the “significant impact region”; therefore, Quebec's immigration could be called mass immigration according to our previous definition.

Moreover, developing general equations based on the power law, and incorporating fertility rate and immigration level along with other factors, could be an efficient way to quickly determine, without projections, for any country, if immigration effects on local ethnic composition fall into the “significant impact region” and can thus be called mass immigration.

Outputs from the MATLAB script that were used to realize this analysis can be found in Supplementary Data File 4.


4.1 I—Comparison to the literature

In 1987, Jacques Henripin concluded that 24% of the ancestry of Quebecers of 2081 would come from Quebecers of 1981 while the balance would be from immigrant sources (Henripin & Pelletier, 1986; Henripin & Pelletier, 1987). His analyses are based on a TFR of 1.6 and on two immigration scenarios, the first where immigration is used to stabilize Quebec's population and the second where it is used to increase population by 1%. In Figure 4 of his 1987 article, it is observed that, under both scenarios, 50% of the ancestry of Quebecers of 2050 comes from Quebecers of 1981. Cross validating with the results of the present study, it can be assumed that 76% of Quebec population of 1981 were EFCs; thus, the EFCs would become a minority in Henripin's study when the ancestry of Quebecers of 1981 represents 65% of future Quebecers' ancestry. Therefore, in Henripin's study, the EFCs become a minority in 2030 according to the 1% population growth scenario and in 2040 according to the stable population scenario. Surprisingly, using a much simpler method, Henripin arrived at conclusions close to those of the current study. The current method is calibrated with data from the past 44 years and used literature and census data published since 1970, most of which were not available at the time of Henripin's study.

On the international level, DW decline of the EFC can be compared to non‐Hispanic white American decline in the United States and to White British decline in the United Kingdom (see Table 4). The EFCs' DW trend is similar to the non‐Hispanic white American trend until the year 2030 when the EFC share begins to decline more quickly; this could be due to its comparatively lower TFR, faster immigration, or to methodology. The EFCs reach minority status at approximately the same time as other groups studied: 2040 for the non‐Hispanic white Americans according to Ortman and Guarneri (2009), 2042 for the EFCs according to the present study, and 2066 for the white British in United Kingdom—when extrapolating data from Coleman (2010). However, since the non‐Hispanic white American and White British absolute populations benefit numerically from white immigration, which is not the case for the (ancestrally defined) EFCs, the comparison is imperfect.

Table 4. Demographic weight in percent for French Canadians, non‐Hispanic white Americans, and white British ethnic groups in their home country or province

  1971 2010 2015 2030 2040 2050
Ethnic French Canadian 79a 67b 64b 57b 51b 45b
Non‐Hispanic white American 83c 67c/65d 62d 59c/56d 51d 51c/46d
White British   85e 82e 72e 66e 59e

  • a From 1971 Canada's census.

  • b From the current study.

  • c From Smith and Edmonston (1997).

  • d From U.S. national projection in Ortman and Guarneri (2009).

  • e Estimated from Figure 2 from Coleman (2010).

It would be interesting to extend the comparison to other countries, such as France, for example. However, many demographers focus on the representativeness of immigrants or on individuals of foreign origin rather than on native ethnic groups. It is possible to compare immigrants' DW to other studies; however, such comparisons are rather difficult and risky since definition of terms and methodology have a major impact on results. Nevertheless, limited comparisons can be made. IAD would make up 20% of Quebec's population in 2014. This can be compared to France, where in 2011, first‐ and second‐generation immigrants will make up 19.2% of the population or 30% when including the third generation (Tribalat, 2015). In Canada, official statistics predict that first‐ and second‐generation immigrants will represent between 44% and 50% of the Canadian population in 2036 (Morency et al., 2017), while in the current study, immigrants and their descendants arrived after 1971 would represent 34% of Quebec's population. Differences between Quebec and Canada can be explained by two main factors. First, Quebec receives proportionally fewer immigrants than other Canadian provinces. In addition, definitions are not the same. For instance, second‐generation immigrants from Statistics Canada also includes individuals born from intermarriage; this depresses the Canadian‐born share by boosting the second‐generation immigrant share.

4.2 II—Potential implications

The results demonstrate that the province of Quebec is projected to reach “majority‐minority” status before the middle of the current century if immigration remains at its current level. The decline of the EFC majority has political, societal, and philosophical implications. On the political level, one may wonder, what the effect will be on support for Quebec independence? In 1995, Quebecers held a referendum to separate Quebec from Canada which resulted in a 49.4% vote for independence. Sixty percent of francophones supported independence while 95% of non‐francophones opposed it (Beauchemin, 1998). This can be compared to Northern Ireland Protestants who almost unanimously oppose Irish reunification while Catholics are divided on the question (Ipso Mori, 2016). This option, not very popular amongst NFC Quebecers and amongst immigrants, might disappear from the public debate as Quebec's ethnic composition changes—unless immigrants and their descendants demonstrate growing support. Nevertheless, Lavoie and Serre in 2002 showed that support for independence is still highly variable for immigrants according to their degree of assimilation to the francophone group. The Parti Québécois, the main political party advocating support for independence, may find it difficult to win votes by promoting independence in the near future. Its traditional opponent, the Parti Liberal, has been using independence as a scarecrow to gain votes from opponents to Quebec independence (Noel, 2014).

Regarding the language question, one may wonder how the French Canadian culture and language can be effectively transmitted to newcomers as the EFC share falls. As of 2011, 86.8% of Quebec's immigrants reside in the Montreal Metropolitan census region (Government of Quebec, 2014), similar to Canada as a whole, where 90.9% of all immigrants live in census metropolitan areas (Morency et al., 2017). At the same time, French Canadians are leaving the city for the suburbs. Thus, in the long run, French Canadian culture in Montreal will have to be transmitted from older generations of immigrants and their descendants to freshly arrived immigrants. One may ask if this is feasible. What amount of effort must be done to preserve the French language? Do Quebecers, who are becoming more and more multicultural and multiethnic, want to preserve a French Canadian identity and language or do they accept the possibility that in the long run they might assimilate to the English language and to Anglo‐American culture such as the Cajuns of Louisiana? Over the past 40 years, Quebec's language policies have been a success in preserving French as the official and dominant language (Hamers & Hummel, 1994, Bourhis & Sioufi, 2017), but not without causing friction with the English‐speaking community (Woolfson, 1983) and even an exodus (Maheu, 1983; Pettinicchio, 2012). In this period, measures have been implemented to favour immigrants from French‐speaking countries as a means of sustaining the French language.

In 1971 (Statistics Canada, 1974b), Quebecers born abroad came from Italy (19.3%), the United Kingdom (14.0%), United States (9.9%), France (7.1%), and Greece (5.6%), which contrasts sharply with today immigrations sources. The top countries amongst Quebec immigrants between 2011 and 2016 (Statistics Canada, 2017) were France (9.3%), Haiti (7.8%), Algeria (7.6%), Morocco (6.3%), and China (5.0%). As such, the ethnic composition of Quebec's recent immigrants diverges significantly from the rest of Canada: between 2011 and 2016, Asia provided 61.8% of Canada's immigrants, while Africa provided 34.5% of Quebec's (Statistics Canada, 2017). Thus, before 1966, 8% of the immigrants were francotrope (more affinity toward the French language), rising to 53% between 1971 and 1975 and 57% for the 1986 to 1991 period (Castonguay, 1997). As such, assimilation of immigrants to the French language was 27.4%, 35.8%, and 39.8% for 1971, 1991, and 1996, respectively (Castonguay, 2002). Immigrant selection and political measures effectively increased assimilation to the French language for awhile; however, as demographer Charles Castonguay points out, assimilation trends are about to be reversed as recent censuses demonstrate that more francophone are being assimilated to English than the reverse in Montreal (Castonguay, 2018; Castonguay, 2019). In fact, in this provincial metropolis, it seems that linguistic transfer to English or French is highly dependent on the linguistic character of the neighbourhood where the immigrants decide to settle (Ouellette, 2011). Thus, as the EFCs' DW decreases, immigrant assimilation into French may decrease as well.

Immigration and related questions regarding integration, culture, and religion could become increasingly important in politics. In 2008, the Quebec government held a special commission on “reasonable accommodation” which addressed the issue of religious minorities demanding special requests to accommodate their religion (Bouchard & Taylor, 2008); in 2013, the Parti Quebecois proposed a bill, the Quebec charter of values, which ended up in a heated debate regarding Quebec's relationship with immigrants and religious minorities, particularly the Muslim minority (Bakali, 2015; Nadeau & Helly, 2016). In the 2018 elections, the Coalition Avenir Quebec proposed to temporarily reduce annual immigration from 50,000 to 40,000 until proper means of integration and francisation are implemented. In 2019, the newly elected Quebec government debated a law, Bill 21, regarding the prohibition of religious symbols for certain job positions in the public sector which ignited another heated debate and demonstrated stark polarization between francophones and anglophones. Quebec's growing political interest in the immigration question and topics related to adaptation to rising cultural diversity is a local example of a more global trend where politicians are capitalizing on the immigration issue (Coleman, 2008). In this, Quebecers differ from other Canadians. When compared to the United States, New Zealand, and Australia, Canadians are said to be the most pro‐immigration (Ceobanu & Escandell, 2010), and immigration is considered less of an issue for Canadian voters than for the above‐mentioned countries (Kaufmann, 2019). In contrast, as shown in Eric Kaufmann's Whiteshift, Quebecers are the most in favour of immigration reduction when compared to the United States, New Zealand, Australia, and English Canada. Their attitude to immigration and multiculturalism are similar to those in Europe, and the author suggests that opposition to immigration and the rise of right populism is correlated with the rate of majority ethnic decline rather than just being related to the rise of specific minority groups (Kaufmann, 2019).

It might be asked why anti‐immigrant demonstrations, populism, and tension have been relatively low in Quebec and Canada compared to the United States and Europe, since Canada has much higher immigration rate per capita. A possible answer could be that its immigration system attracts high‐quality immigrants which produce a positive perception of immigration. From 2005 to 2009, 63.3% of all immigrants were admitted in Quebec through the economic immigrant's programme, 22.0% through the family reunification programme, and 12.6% through the refugee programme (Turcotte, 2010). Economic immigrants are selected based on a grid that considers the following: educational qualifications, language competences (French/English), work experience, age, labour market suitability, and adaptability (Government of Canada, 2019). The Canadian immigration system attracts highly educated immigrants: According to the 2000 census, 40% of Canadians citizens holding a masters or a doctoral degree were immigrants. As of 2006, the proportion of recent immigrants with a university diploma was twice as high as amongst Canadian‐born citizens (Galarneau & Morrissette, 2008). This contrasts with the United States where immigrants from Latin America put pressure on the wages of unskilled American workers while on the contrary Canada's educated immigration impacts the wages of the better educated. According to a Canada‐USA‐Mexico study, doctoral and masters degree holders' wages were pulled down by 7% (Aydemir & Borjas, 2006), which narrowed wage inequality in Canada. In terms of labour, recent immigrants (those who have arrived five or fewer years earlier) have a 4.6% higher rate of unemployment than the Canadian‐born, which decreases to 0.6% for immigrants who arrived more than 10 years ago (Yssaad & Field, 2018). It could be argued that selection of quality immigrants facilitates integration and helps Canadians hold a positive view of their immigration system.


In short, this research focuses on the impact of mass immigration on local ethnic groups' demographic weight (DW). Canada, where immigration is high per capita and multiculturalism is a national policy, is a paradigm case. The scope of this study was limited to the study of the French Canadian ethnic group of the Province of Quebec. It was found that from 1971 to 2014, the EFC share of the population (DW) fell from 79% to 64.5% of Quebec's population. Projections predict that EFCs will reach 50% of Quebec's population by 2042 and 45% by 2050. Rapid ethnic population changes between 2014 and 2042 were illustrated by examining French Canadian DW by year and by age. This compares the 2042 age pyramid of French Canadians with that of post‐1971 immigrants and their descendants, and, for age cohorts to 2042, the share of French Canadians and post‐1971 immigrants and their descendants. Moreover, 45 scenarios of different immigration rate and TFR are projected to evaluate the impact of various immigration rates on French Canadians' DW. It was discovered that the immigration rate effect on the DW followed a power law functional relationship. In addition, combinations of immigration level and fertility level resulted in three DW decrease scenarios, one which suggests a mathematical definition for the term mass immigration. General equations based on a power law function could be developed for any country to determine if local ethnic groups' DW is changing rapidly under a mass immigration regime. This would provide a simple method that is not reliant on cohort‐component demographic projections.

The results can be extrapolated to Canada and illustrate that the vision of a multicultural and multiracial country is occurring rapidly (Malenfant, 2005). Mostly inhabited by European descendants on the eve of Pierre Elliott Trudeau's leadership, Canada's mass immigration policy is reducing the DW of Canada's ethnic founding populations. Canada is becoming more and more multicultural, which is in line with Canada's multiculturalism policy. Immigration will likely be a hot topic in the current century, in Quebec as in other western jurisdictions. This case study offers an example of how rapid immigration can alter the ethnic composition of a territory and can be used to illustrate similar phenomena in other nations.