There are wide variations in life expectancy in Canada across regions and socio-economic status. But life expectancy doesn’t tell the whole story. Higher income Canadians live longer and healthier lives than those in lower income brackets. In Thursday’s Globe and Mail, columnist André Picard explains these findings in his analysis of a recently released Statistics Canada article entitled “Income Disparities in Health-Adjusted Life Expectancy for Canadian Adults, 1991 to 2001.”
Statistics Canada found that 51.2% of Canadian men in the lowest income decile are expected to live to age 75, compared to 74.6% of men in the highest decile – a 23.3 percentage point difference. Similarly, 69.4% of Canadian women in the lowest decile are expected to survive to age 75, compared to 84.4% of women in the highest decile – a smaller but still significant 14.4 point difference. In raw terms, Canadian men in the highest income decile live 7.4 years longer than those in the lowest decile, while women in the highest decile live 4.5 years longer than women in the lowest. Applying the Health-Adjusted Life Expectancy (HALE) measure which measures the quality and quantity of life, Statistics Canada found that men in the highest income decile live 11.4 healthy years longer than men in the lowest income decile, and women in the highest income decile live 9.7 healthy years longer than their lowest income counterparts.
The difference in health-adjusted life expectancy from being in the highest income decile rather than the average income was 5.9 years for men and 4.2 years for women – about twice as high as the impact of all cancers combined on health-adjusted life expectancy.
Picard then asks a critical question that we often encounter here at the Wellesley Institute: “why is tackling poverty not a health priority?”