This dissertation pertains to the well-being of Canadian children and families. I focus on the relationship between socio-economic status and health, while emphasizing vulnerable populations. In Chapter 2, my co-authors and I provide the first direct estimates of poverty and inequality in Northern Canada compared to the rest of the country. A novel aspect of this work is that we account for cost of living, which is 46 percent higher in the North. This has important implications for poverty and inequality in the region. We find that 20.5 percent of Northern families with children are poor compared to 9.5 percent in the South. And, while ten percent of the Southern population is represented in each income decile, 31 percent of Northern families with children are at the bottom of the distribution. In Chapter 3, I transition from describing income (and disparities thereof) to considering its effect on health. I exploit an exogenous increase in income for Canadian families with young children (i.e. Universal Child Care Benefit) to answer the following questions: Is there a relationship between income and mental health among Canadian mothers? Is it corroborated by other measures of well-being (i.e. stress, life satisfaction)? Is the effect different for lone mothers compared to those in two-parent families? I examine these issues with a triple difference model and microdata from the Canadian Community Health Survey. I find the income transfer improves mental health and life satisfaction regardless of family structure. It also reduces stress among lone mothers. Finally, in Chapter 4, I compare prenatal smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women. I find that 42 percent of Aboriginal women smoke during pregnancy compared to 15 percent of the non-Aboriginal population. Likewise a relatively large proportion of Aboriginal women are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke (i.e. 39.5 versus 17 percent). Important correlates include: marital status; income; geography; age at childbirth; and education. The latter two are particularly important for Aboriginal women. And, while Aboriginal women are more likely to smoke during pregnancy, there is no difference in the number of cigarettes per day among those who do.
More than a million Canadian children are living in low-income households, according to census data.
Census information released by Statistics Canada Wednesday shows that in 2015, nearly 1.2 million children across Canada were living in low-income households, representing about 17 per cent of all Canadian children.
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Children account for nearly one quarter of all low-income Canadians, and while their share of the population has decreased since the mid-1990s, their share of the low-income population has decreased faster, according to Statistics Canada – something it attributes to family-related benefit programs among other factors.
The agency defined low income as after-tax household income that is less than half of the median household income: so below $22,133 for a single-person household, or $44,266 for a four-person household. This means that the cut-off would change as overall median incomes rise or fall.
WATCH: Child poverty rates in Canada are sobering
More kids, less money
The more children a household has, the more likely it is to be low-income, according to the census data. And the younger a child is, the more likely they are to be living in poverty – something Statistics Canada says is linked to new mothers’ earnings typically dropping the year that they give birth and for several years thereafter.
But one of the biggest contributing factors to poverty is whether the child lives in a single-parent or dual-parent household.
Nearly two in five children in a single-parent household are low-income, compared to just 11 per cent of children in a two-parent household.
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“If you’re a lone-parent family there’s less likely to be two adult earners in the family for example and that can make a difference in terms of household income,” said Andrew Heisz, assistant director of Statistics Canada’s income statistics division. “And if there’s more children, then that income is being spread among more people.”
Most children in lone-parent families live with their mother. Unfortunately, 42 per cent of those children live in poverty, compared to just 25.5 per cent among children who live with their father.
Children in Atlantic Canada are most likely to be living in low-income households: more than one in five in all Maritime provinces. There is one Atlantic success story though – in 2005, one quarter of children in Newfoundland and Labrador were in low income households. A decade later, it’s 18 per cent.
This is due to the province’s huge growth in median incomes – 29 per cent over 10 years, said Heisz. “When the median income rises that much in a particular area, it stands to reason that you could see an interesting decrease in the low income rate.”
READ MORE: Does the Canada Child Benefit program actually cut poverty rates?
Alberta, which has the highest median household income among Canadian provinces, also has the lowest proportion of low-income children. However, Quebec, which is one of the lowest-income provinces, has the second-lowest number of low-income children.
WATCH: Nova Scotia had the third-highest rate of child poverty in 2014
Statistics Canada thinks this may be partly due to Quebec’s generous child benefits and lower child care costs, but it could be a result of a variety of things. “There could be differences in government transfers. There could be differences in the labour market participation of parents,” said Heisz.
Among Canadian cities, Windsor, Saint John and London had the highest portion of children living in poverty, and Calgary, Saguenay and Quebec City the lowest.
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