Indigenous women have generally poorer health than Indigenous men, UBCO professor finds

CBC News

Economist Min Hu's research is based on self-reported health data from StatsCan's Aboriginal People's Survey

Winston Szeto · CBC News · Posted: Aug 10, 2022 7:00 AM PT | Last Updated: 2 hours ago

Indigenous women across Canada living off-reserve tend to have poorer physical and mental health than Indigenous men, according to research published by an economist at the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus (UBCO) in Kelowna.

In his research paper published in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities in April, UBCO economics professor Min Hu based his findings on data from Statistics Canada's Aboriginal Peoples Survey — a national questionnaire conducted in 2001, 2006, 2012 and 2017 on the socioeconomic conditions of First Nations living off reserve lands, as well as Métis and Inuit.

Indigenous women and men each made up about half of the study's sample of more than 86,000 people. Hu found that the gender disparity in health — in terms of the percentage of people who answered good, very good or excellent to questions on health status — widened over the years of the study, from a 1.5 per cent gap in 2001 to 5.3 per cent in 2012, dropping to 2.7 per cent in 2017.

B.C., however, was a bit of an exception.

Among those surveyed in this province, women's self-reported health was better than men's, with a difference as large as 2.1 per cent in 2006. But Indigenous women in other provinces, such as Ontario and Quebec, reported poorer health than Indigenous men for most of the years.

First study on gender health gap among Indigenous people

Hu said this is Canada's first-ever research investigating the gender health gap among Indigenous populations across the country.

"The main thing is the difference between the males and females getting larger, and we're trying to explore why this gap is getting larger," he told host Carolina de Ryk on CBC's Daybreak North.

Hu says income inequality between Indigenous women and men may explain some of his findings, and his next step would be to look at Indigenous health data on reserve lands.

A report published by Statistics Canada in 2014 found that women generally tend to have poorer health than men, even though they have longer life expectancies. For instance, it found that women in 2010 could expect to live 14.3 per cent of their lives in poor health compared to 13.3 per cent for men.

A 1996 Carleton University study cited lower incomes among women, and women more likely to be single parents than men resulting in more stress as contributing factors.

Mary Teegee, the executive director of Carrier Sekani Family Services in Prince George, says she isn't surprised by Hu's findings because Indigenous women in other countries also tend to have poorer health than other demographic groups.

"We really need to look at a holistic solution involving Indigenous women, and I think that's what's really important," she said.