Socioeconomic disparities in life and health expectancy among the household population in Canada

Health Rep. 2020 Jan 15;31(1):3-14. doi: 10.25318/82-003-x202000100001-eng.


Background: Life expectancy (LE) and health expectancy have increased throughout much of the world. However, these gains have not been shared equally across all population groups. Socioeconomic disparities exist, though varied methodologies and data sources have made it difficult to ascertain changes over time in Canada.

Data and methods: The 1996 and 2011 Canadian Census Health and Environment Cohorts, with a five-year mortality follow-up, were used to estimate the LE of the household population at ages 25 and 65, according to individual-level education and income. Health status was measured by the Health Utilities Index Mark 3 instrument in two national population health surveys and was used to adjust LE to estimate health-adjusted life expectancy (HALE). Disparities in LE and HALE, and differences between cohorts, were examined.

Results: LE, HALE and the ratio of HALE to LE were greater at higher levels of education or income. A stepwise gradient was also observed by level of education within and across income quintiles, with people in the lowest combined education and income categories at the greatest disadvantage. Disparities were wider in the 2011 cohort compared with the 1996 cohort, but not necessarily to the same extent for both sexes or at different ages.

Discussion: In Canada, education-related and income-related disparities in life and health expectancy persist and may be wider than they were in the past. This underscores the importance of ongoing data development for routine monitoring of trends in mortality and morbidity, which can, in turn, inform policy development and planning to advance health equity.

Keywords: Health Utilities Index; education; health disparities; health equity; health expectancy; income; life expectancy.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Family Characteristics*
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy / trends
  • Male
  • Models, Statistical
  • Population Health*
  • Socioeconomic Factors*