Population health researchers, most famously and consistently Richard Wilkinson,Â have long drawn attention to the fact that the link between social class and health status is a gradient, such that an individual’s position in the class hierarchy is directly and causally linked to that person’s health status. It is not just that low income people are more likely to be be in ill health and to die earlier than those higherup the income ladder; high income people are also healthier and live longer than those in the middle.Â Lower health status reflects not just poverty and absolute deprivation,Â but also the relative deprivation, stress and anxiety which arise from an inferior position in the social hierarchy.Â (See Wilkinson’s The Impact of Inequality, New Press, 2005.)
A new Statistics Canada study puts solid new Canadian numbers behind the argument that inequality kills. They link income status in 1991 to mortality (deaths) between 1991 and 2001 and find that “compared with people of higher socio-economic status, mortality rates were elevated among those of lower socio-economic status, regardless of whether status was determined by education, occupation or income. The findings reveal a stair-stepped gradient, with bigger steps near the bottom of the socio-economic hierarchy.”
Some key numbers:
Canadians aged 25 and in the top fifth of the income distribution can expect to have 5.6 more years of lifeÂ than those in the bottom fifth, and 1.7 more years of life compared to those in the middle one fifth.Â The gap between the top and bottom one fifth is 6.8 years for men, and 4.3 years for women.
Of Canadians aged 25, 78.1%Â in the top one fifth can expect to survive to age 75, compared 61.0% in th bottom one fifth, and 72.7% in the middle one fifth.
Of Canadian men aged 25, just 50.6% in the bottom one fifthÂ can expect toÂ survive to ageÂ 75, compared toÂ 72.4%Â in the top one fifth .