Life Expectancy and Income

Statisticians have long seen life expectancy rates as being a superficial measure of longevity and quality of life. We know that life expectancy in Canada, for example, is 82 for a woman and 76.9 for a man. Statistics Canada has been drilling down into this data to look beyond mortality, and has now come up with Disability-Free Life Expectancy (DFLE) figures. DFLE is 68.6 years, which means most people can expect to live almost a decade with a chronic health condition or significant mental or physical disability before they die.

StatsCan has also created a complex way to measure quality of life called Health-Adjusted Life Expectancy (HALE) that takes into account genetics, education, housing, physical environment, income and lifestyle choices. The findings of their research on the effect of income disparities on longevity, published in the journal Health Reports, revealed:

  • 51.2% of Canadian men in the lowest income group (the
    bottom 10 per cent) can expect to live to age 75 while 74.6%
    of high-income earners (the top 10 per cent) can expect to see
    75.
  • 69.4% of poor women can expect to live to 75, compared with 84.4% of wealthy women.

When they apply the HALE measures to this data, the gap between rich and poor widened considerably: wealth  translated into 11.4 more years of healthy living for men and 9.7 for women. Considering that cancer reduces HALE by a mere 2.8 years for men and 2.5 for women, the question is why are we not looking at poverty as a health priority?


* Data condensed from Andre Picard’s Globe and Mail column, November 27th, 2009.

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