The environmental justice literature has described differential health effects of environmental toxins and pollutants on people of different socio-economic status (SES) that may not always reflect differing levels of exposure. We offer four questions or contentions that together may contribute to understanding this conundrum and then present an empirical exploration of one of these questions: Does the relationship between SES and self-perceived status vary in space? Utilizing data from an original questionnaire survey of randomly selected adults conducted in twenty-five communities in British Columbia, Canada, a supplementary data set containing demographic and socio-economic characteristics of the communities themselves, and multilevel modelling techniques, this article describes relationships between objective and subjective measures of social status, by gender and in space. Our analysis contributes to the development of innovative environmental justice models by bringing some spatial sensitivity to interrelationships among these aspects of status.
Stimulated by the growing body of literature relating economic inequalities to inequalities in health, this article explores relationships between various economic attributes of communities and mortality rates among 24 coastal communities in British Columbia, Canada. Average household income, a measure of community wealth, was negatively related and the incidence of low incomes, a measure of poverty, was positively related to age-standardized mortality. Both were more strongly related to female than male mortality. Mean and median household income, the incidence of low incomes and a lack of disposable income, and the proportion of total income dollars derived from government sources were significantly related to mortality rates for younger and middle-aged men but not for elderly men. Mortality rates for younger and middle-aged women were not explicated by these economic attributes of communities: among elderly women only, mortality rates were higher in communities with a lower average household income and in those with a higher incidence of low incomes. Finally, a higher concentration in white-collar industries was related to higher mortality rates for females, even after controlling for other economic attributes of communities. These results do not obviously support a psychosocial argument for an individual-level relationship between income and health that assumes residents perceive their status primarily in relation to other members of the same community, but do provide moderate support for the materialist argument and moderate support for the psychosocial argument that assumes community residents perceive their status in relation to an encompassing reference group. Other viable interpretations of these relationships pertain to ecological characteristics of communities that are related to both economic well-being and population health status; in this instance, concentration in specific economic industries may help to understand the ecological relationships presented here.
Expressed racial identity and hypertension in a telephone survey sample from Toronto and Vancouver, Canada: do socioeconomic status, perceived discrimination and psychosocial stress explain the relatively high risk of hypertension for Black Canadians?
Canadian research on racial health inequalities that foregrounds socially constructed racial identities and social factors which can explain consequent racial health inequalities is rare. This paper adopts a social typology of salient racial identities in contemporary Canada, empirically documents consequent racial inequalities in hypertension in an original survey dataset from Toronto and Vancouver, Canada, and then attempts to explain the inequalities in hypertension with information on socioeconomic status, perceived experiences with institutionalized and interpersonal discrimination, and psychosocial stress.
Telephone interviews were conducted in 2009 with 706 randomly selected adults living in the City of Toronto and 838 randomly selected adults living in the Vancouver Census Metropolitan Area. Bivariate analyses and logistic regression modeling were used to examine relationships between racial identity, hypertension, socio-demographic factors, socioeconomic status, perceived discrimination and psychosocial stress.
The Black Canadians in the sample were the most likely to report major and routine discriminatory experiences and were the least educated and the poorest. Black respondents were significantly more likely than Asian, South Asian and White respondents to report hypertension controlling for age, immigrant status and city of residence. Of the explanatory factors examined in this study, only educational attainment explained some of the relative risk of hypertension for Black respondents. Most of the risk remained unexplained in the models.
Consistent with previous Canadian research, socioeconomic status explained a small portion of the relatively high risk of hypertension documented for the Black respondents. Perceived experiences of discrimination both major and routine and self-reported psychosocial stress did not explain these racial inequalities in hypertension. Conducting subgroup analyses by gender, discerning between real and perceived experiences of discrimination and considering potentially moderating factors such as coping strategy and internalization of racial stereotypes are important issues to address in future Canadian racial inequalities research of this kind.
Cites: Arch Intern Med. 2001 May 28;161(10):1341-611371264
An imbalance in the distribution of economic resources, i.e., income inequality, is a characteristic of a community that may influence the aggregate health of the population. In North America, income inequality seems to be strongly related to mortality rates among American communities such as states and metropolitan areas but largely irrelevant for health at similar levels of geopolitical aggregation in Canada. This article summarizes relevant international and North American evidence and then explores relationships between income inequality and mortality rates among coastal communities in the province of British Columbia, Canada.
Cross-sectional analysis was conducted among twenty-four coastal communities in British Columbia, utilizing four measures based on the 1996 Census to measure income inequality and crude, age-standardized and age- and gender-specific mortality rates averaged over the five-year period 1994-98 to measure health.
The three valid measures of income inequality were positively and significantly related to the crude mortality rate but were not significantly related to the age-standardized mortality rate. Two of the inequality measures were related to mortality rates for males aged 0-44 and for males aged 45-64 before but not after controlling for mean household income.
Health researchers have yet to report a meaningful relationship between income inequality and population health within Canada. At the risk of committing the ecological fallacy, these findings provisionally support a psycho-social interpretation of the individual-level relationship between income and health wherein members of these communities compare themselves to an encompassing community, e.g., all Canadians.
Although there is a large body of research dedicated to exploring public attributions for poverty, considerably less attention has been directed to public understandings about the effects of poverty. In this paper, we describe lay understandings of the effects of poverty and the factors that potentially influence these perceptions, using data from a telephone survey conducted in 2002 on a random sample (n=1671) of adults from eight neighbourhoods in two large Canadian cities (Edmonton and Toronto). These data were supplemented with interview data obtained from 153 people living in these same neighbourhoods. Multivariate linear and logistic regressions were used to determine the effects of basic demographic variables, exposure to poverty and attribution for poverty on three dependent variables relating to the effects of poverty: participation in community life, the relationship between poverty and health and challenges facing low-income people. Ninety-one per cent of survey respondents agreed that poverty is linked to health, while 68% agreed that low-income people are less likely to participate in community life. Affordable housing was deemed especially difficult to obtain by 96%, but other resources (obtaining healthy food, giving children a good start in life, and engaging in healthy behaviours) were also viewed as challenging by at least 70% of respondents. The regression models revealed that when controlling for demographics, exposure to poverty explained some of the variance in recognising the effects of poverty. Media exposure positively influenced recognition of the poverty-health link, and attending formal talks was strongly related to understanding challenges of poverty. Attributions for poverty accounted for slightly more of the variance in the dependent variables. Specifically, structural and sociocultural attributions predicted greater recognition of the effects of poverty, in particular the challenges of poverty, while individualistic attributions predicted less recognition. Older and female respondents were more likely to acknowledge the effects of poverty. Income was positively associated with recognition of the poverty-health link, negatively associated with understanding the challenges of low-income people, and unrelated to perceptions of the negative effect of poverty on participation in community life.
After decades of epidemiological exploration into individual-level risk factors for ill health, a recent surge of interest in the health effects of socially patterned attributes of geographically defined 'places' has given the structural side of the agency-structure debate new prominence in population health research. Utilizing two original data sets, one pertaining to features of communities in British Columbia, Canada and the other to characteristics of individuals living in them, this article distinguishes the health effects of socially patterned attributes of communities, including the social capital of communities, from the health effects of characteristics of residents that contribute to social capital, e.g., trust and participation in voluntary associations. Results from multilevel analysis demonstrated that, of three different individual-level measures of health and well-being (and including measures of long-term limiting illness and self-rated health), only a measure of depressive symptoms had variability that could be reasonably attributed to the level of the community. The social capital of communities in the form of the availability of public spaces explained some of this variability, but in the direction contrary to expectations. Overall, location (community of residence) did little to explicate health inequalities in this context. The strongest predictors of health in multivariate and multilevel models were characteristics of individual survey respondents, namely, income, trust in politicians and governments, and trust in other members of the community. Breadth of participation in networks of voluntary association was not significantly related to health in multivariate models.
Using original telephone survey data collected from adult residents of Toronto (n = 685) and Vancouver (n = 814) in 2009, I investigate associations between mental and physical health and variously conceived racial identities. An 'expressed racial identity' is a self-identification with a racial grouping that a person will readily express to others when asked to fit into official racial classifications presented by Census forms, survey researchers, insurance forms, and the like. Distinguishing between Asian, Black, South Asian, and White expressed racial identities, I find that survey respondents expressing Black identity are the most likely to report high blood pressure or hypertension, a risk that is slightly attenuated by socioeconomic status, and that respondents expressing Asian identity are the most likely to report poorer self-rated mental health and self-rated overall health, risks that are not explained by socioeconomic status. I also find that darker-skinned Black respondents are more likely than lighter-skinned Black respondents to report poor health outcomes, indicating that colourism, processes of discrimination which privilege lighter-skinned people of colour over their darker-skinned counterparts, exists and has implications for well-being in Canada as it does in the United States. Finally, 'reflected racial identity' refers to the racial identity that a person believes that others tend to perceive him or her to be. I find that expressed and reflected racial identities differ from one another for large proportions of self-expressed Black and South Asian respondents and relatively few self-expressed White and Asian respondents. I also find that mismatched racial identities correspond with relatively high risks of various poor health outcomes, especially for respondents who consider themselves White but believe that others tend to think they are something else. I conclude by presenting a framework for conceptualizing multifaceted suites of racial identities and relating their various components and inconsistencies between them to health outcomes.
This study addresses questions concerning psychosocial processes of relative comparison in the production of socio-economic inequalities in health. Specifically, the importance for health of perceptions of status, different 'reference groups' and 'reference points' in such comparisons is problematized and investigated empirically. Using data from a cross-sectional telephone survey of the Canadian population in 2000 (n=1331), the paper investigates relationships between self-rated health status (SRHS) and: (1) 'actual' absolute socio-economic standing, (2) perceived relative socio-economic standing (relative to other Canadians and to Canadians of the previous generation), and (3) 'actual' relative socio-economic standing (relative to others in respondents' province of residence and neighbourhood of residence). Measures of actual absolute socio-economic status (SES) (household income, personal income and education) were strongly related to SRHS. Results for perceived relative SES were mixed. Perceived SES relative to all Canadians was a strong predictor of SRHS before and after controlling for age and gender while perceived SES relative to the previous generation was unrelated to SRHS. Actual relative income was strongly related to SRHS for all reference points (10th, 50th and 90th percentiles) in both reference groups analysed (neighbourhoods and provinces). Within neighbourhoods, however, comparisons with those at the top of the income ladder appeared to be somewhat more salient for SRHS than were comparisons to other levels. We conclude that there is some evidence of the importance of both psychosocial and neo-material aspects of SES for Canadians' self-rated health, but that further empirical research is needed that accounts for the numerous ways in which psychosocial processes of relative social comparison may take place.
Informed by intersectionality theory, a tradition that theorizes intersecting power relations of racism, patriarchy, classism and heterosexism, this paper investigates the degree to which race, gender, class and sexuality manifest distinct and interconnected associations with self-reported hypertension in nationally-representative survey data from Canada. Binary logistic regression is used to model the main effects of, and interactions between, race, gender, education, household income and sexual orientation on hypertension, controlling for age, using data from the 2003 Canadian Community Health Survey (n = 90,310). From a main effects ('additive') perspective, Black respondents, respondents with less than high school and poorer respondents were significantly more likely than White respondents, university-educated Canadians and wealthier Canadians, respectively, to report hypertension. However, the interactive models indicate that the additive models were poor predictors of hypertension for wealthy Black men, wealthy South Asian women, women with less than a high school diploma and wealthy bisexual respondents, who were more likely than expected to report hypertension, and for poor Black men, poor South Asian women, poor South Asian men and women with a university degree, who were less likely than expected to report hypertension. It appears that, with regard to blood pressure at least, Canadians experience the health effects of education differently by their genders and the health effects of income differently by their identities defined at the intersection of race and gender. This study provides empirical support for the intersectional approach to cardiovascular health inequalities by demonstrating that race, gender, class and sexuality cannot be disentangled from one another as predictors of hypertension.