StatsCan Report Links Income to Life Expectancy

A new StatsCan report finds a clear relationship between income and health in Canada, with Canadians in the highest income quintile having the lowest risk of dying from multiple causes

A new report on the state of health in Canada by Statistics Canada finds a strong link between between life expectancy and income in the country.

The report uses data collected from 1991 to 2006 in a Canadian census study on mortality, and measures the age-standardized mortality rates (ASMRs) of Canadians in five income groups.

It found that individuals in the highest income quintile had the lowest risk of dying, and the risk increased progressively with each move down an income quintile.

The major causes of death that saw big differences between individuals with different levels of income were ischemic heart disease, cancers of the trachea, bronchus and lung, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

This suggests that a greater tendency among those in the lower income quintiles to engage high-risk behavior, in particular smoking, is a major cause of the differences in health outcomes.

A large difference was also seen in rate of death due to communicable diseases, with individuals in the lowest income quintile being 3.5 times more likely to die from HIV/AIDS than those in the highest.

Healthy immigrant effect

The link between income and health outcomes could explain the ‘healthy immigrant effect’, which is an observed phenomenon in which immigrants tend to arrive in Canada in a state of health that is better than members of the general population, but see a deterioration in their health in the years following their arrival.

As the income gap between recent immigrants and the general Canadian population has steadily increased since 1980, one result could be that the income-related health effects of immigration on new Canadians could have grown.

Income and population centres

The relevance of income to health is also worth considering when deciding where one should live in Canada.

Canadian census reports show that there is a sizeable personal income gap between rural and urban Canada, with urban areas having per capita incomes that are more than one fifth higher than rural districts.

The income gap between rural and urban Canada is paralleled by a life expectancy gap, with city-dwellers and those living within commuting distance of cities living longer than their rural counterparts.

Among Canadian cities, those with the highest median household income are Ottawa, the country’s capital, where it is $94,700, the Albertan metropolises of Calgary ($89,490) and Edmonton ($87,930), the capital city of Saskatchewan, Regina ($84,890), and Oshawa, Ontario ($82,270).

Study Shows Immigrants Have Larger Babies After Moving to Canada

Immigrant women give birth to larger babies than women in their country of origin, according to a study by St. Michael’s Hospital researcher Dr. Joel Ray (John Markos O’Neill)

A study by St. Michael’s Hospital researcher Dr. Joel Ray finds that immigrant women give birth to larger babies than women from their native country, but still smaller than babies born to Canadian-born women.

The study, which appears in the journal of Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, finds that male babies of immigrant women weigh on average 115 grams more than babies in the immigrant woman’s country of origin, while female babies weight 112 grams more.

The cause of the weight difference is likely the higher income of Canadian immigrants compared to the population they immigrated from, due to selective immigration rules that require high education and career achievements to qualify for immigration to Canada, according to Dr. Ray.

Dr. Ray writes that the difference could also be due to immigrants consuming more calories and getting less exercise than when they lived in their native countries, resulting in both them and their babies being bigger.

Previous studies have shown that Canadian immigrants have better health indicators than the average Canadian upon arriving in the country, but that their health status quickly degrades as they stay in Canada longer.

Canadian Immigrants See Declining Health After Arriving

A study by Louisa Taylor under a fellowship from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research has found that Canadian immigrants are healthier than the average Canadian when they first arrive to Canada, but subsequently see a rapid decline in their health.

In an article in the Vancouver Sun, she writes:

Since the 1990s a growing body of data has suggested that most newcomers arrive in Canada healthier than the native-born population, only to have that advantage erode over time. New immigrants tend to live longer than the Canadian-born population, but within a decade of resettlement, their mortality rates creep up, as do their rates of chronic disease. In looking at almost a decade of data in its biannual National Population Health Survey, Statistics Canada also found immigrants were almost twice as likely as native-born Canadians to report feeling unwell. Recent non-European immigrants — the largest proportion of newcomers we currently admit — were the most likely to report their health declining from good or excellent to fair or poor.

This phenomenon of declining health upon immigration is known as the ‘healthy immigrant effect’.

Immigrants from the US and Europe see a smaller healthy immigrant effect, while those from India, China and the Philippines, see a much larger effect, and have significantly higher rates of chronic diseases than the general population.

Some possible causes that Taylor suggests could be behind the healthy immigrant effect are:

  • A high number of recent immigrants are non-Caucasians, who have ethnicity-specific diseases that Canadian medical practitioners are not accustomed to treating
  • Many recent immigrants come from countries where preventive care is uncommon, and therefore do not respond to calls by Canadian health agencies to make use of preventive health care
  • Many immigrants from non-Western countries having difficulty communicating with medical practitioners due to cultural and language barriers
  • Taylor writes that practitioners are beginning to better understand the unique needs of newly arrived immigrants groups and are collaborating to form better strategies to help them maintain their health.