Death by postal code: Income still dictates lifespan in Ontario

Interactive: Death and income in Ontario, 2004-12 »

Interactive: Death and income in Ontario, 2004-12

People in Ontario’s poorer postal codes die earlier.

They’re more likely to die before age 18 and age 50, statistics Global News obtained from the province show.

“Income is strongly connected to mortality,” York University professor Dennis Raphael said. “People’s living and working conditions have a strong effect on health.”

The correlation itself isn’t new: German writer Friedrich Engels attributed the health problems of the poor to bad living conditions, stress, and unhealthy behaviour.

More than a century later that still holds true: Poorer people live in worse housing, work less steady jobs, have less access to preventive health care, more exposure to infection and are more likely to smoke and eat unhealthily.

“The second pathway is stress and psychosocial issues,” Raphael said.

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The city of Toronto, which for more than a decade has designated “priority neighbourhoods” in need of greater focus and better services, didn’t respond by deadline to Global News’s request for an interview regarding what the city’s doing to prevent blighted neighbourhoods from becoming traps guaranteeing premature death. (If they do respond, we’ll post their response.)

Global linked postal code-based income data from Statistics Canada and information from Ontario death certificates to show the relationship between income and median age of death.

READ MORE: Canada’s shifting income by postal code

In a society with high levels of immigration, early death may not be related to the place where the person was living when they died; it might be related to childhood health problems in another country decades ago, for example.

”Below the age of 18, kids are more likely to die from injuries, if they’re low-income. It has to do with their actual day-to-day living conditions, living in high-rises where children are more likely to fall out the window, having parents that are working many jobs, more likely to be out on the street and hit by cars,” Raphael said.

Interactive: Hover over a dot for details on that postal code’s income and mortality rate.

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At the same time, Raphael said, lower income is linked to higher levels of the stress steroid hormone cortisol, which is linked to a range of health problems, including high blood pressure and diabetes.

“In addition to stress, there’s the sense of control over your life. We’ve known for a while that your sense of control over your life is a determinant of health – optimism, the ability to feel you’re in control.”

“It’s day-to-day life,” Raphael says.

“It’s precarious work, it’s heart attacks when your factory closes, it’s consistent with our lived experience. It’s really a wonder how little of it is ever really made explicit.”

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