23 March 2020

How Many War Bride Survivors? Back of the Envelope Estimates

While in Victoria in February I had the opportunity to meet over coffee with Barry Edmonston, a semi-retired University of Victoria professor specializing in demographics. I was seeking his advice on estimating the number of survivors and descendants of particular groups. For me, that started with claims about the percent of Canada's population that had a home child ancestor and developed into an interest in war bride survivors as it would seem to be a simpler problem.

I estimated there were about 4,000 war bride survivors in 2017 and was interested to find out how his back of the envelope estimate would compare.

No envelopes were harmed in doing his estimate. He used a spreadsheet calculation of the number of survivors every 10 years using the estimates I'd made of the age distribution of war brides when they arrived in Canada in 1946 and Canadian life tables for females from Statistics Canada.

Initially, he used life tables for 1986. I asked about the sensitivity to that choice and he recently made additional calculations using 1956 and 2006 life tables.

Summarized below are his 10-yearly estimates, my interpolation for 2020 and the year of peak deaths.

It seems likely the year with most war bride deaths was in the early 2000s. 

Barry Edmonston's opinion is that the most likely range for war bride survivors in 2016 is 2,500 to 4,500 which would imply a range of 1,000 to 1,800 in 2020.

Some uncertainties in the assumptions behind the calculation are:

1. These women had a history in Britain (over 90% of them) so were raised in an environment different from that experienced by the majority of Canadian-raised women.
2. The life tables are a snapshot at the time. Changing sanitation, medical care and nutrition conditions means that life expectancy grew through this period. See Figure 7 in Trends, patterns, and differentials in Canadian mortality over nearly a century (1921–2011). Ideally, we'd use a cohort life table for women born in the UK who came to Canada in 1946 which tracks changes as they evolve. No such animal exists. 
3. The age distribution of the war brides when they came to Canada in 1946 is my estimate — no stats have ever been published that I can find.
4. Not all the war brides remained in Canada. The proportion who left is unknown. Some went back to the UK, others migrated elsewhere — recall the last CEF veteran died in the US.  If war brides are similar to the typical Canadian-born population, about 3 percent emigrate to the U.S. at some age (https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/canadian-immigrants-united-states). 

Thanks to Barry Edmonston for providing these estimates.


Anonymous said...

No envelopes were harmed. Oh dear heavens John. A touch of cabin fever perhaps? Cheers, BT

Eric said...

I have four Dodman war brides in my tree, two in Canada, two in us. Three died 2001 to 2015r, one still living in Canada5