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Canadian Rural-Urban Gap Widens

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 28 October 2003 00:00

Developers and builders continue to promote the urban exodus to homebuyers, but do these consumers see past idyllic stereotypes of country living when making "the big move?" Although the revitalization of Canada's rural areas is a high priority among policy makers, according to Statistics Canada, the gap between rural and urban is widening on many levels.

In a recently-released Rural and Small Town Canada Analysis Bulletin entitled "The health of rural Canadians: A rural-urban comparison of health indicators," Stats Can reported that Canadians living in rural and northern areas have a less favourable perception of their health than their urban counterparts. In 2001, 6.1 million (20.6%) Canadians were living in "rural and small town" areas. Twenty-nine per cent of those living in the fringe of major metropolitan cities (those with populations of more than 1 million) rated their health as excellent in comparison to 20% of those in rural regions and 21% of those in northern regions.

This Stats Can study, which used data based on more than 130,000 individuals aged 12 and older from the 2000/01 "Canadian Community Health Survey" (CCHS), found significant differences in certain health indicators between urban and rural Canada:

  • Health risk behaviours, such as smoking and excessive weight problems, were significantly higher in small town regions, rural regions and northern areas of the country. Almost 27% of the population aged 20 to 64 was overweight or obese in major metropolitan regions compared to more than 40% in rural and northern regions.

  • Rural regions and small metropolitan areas had a higher-than-average prevalence of people who reported either arthritis or rheumatism, even after age was taken into account. Research has identified obesity as a major risk factor leading to chronic health problems such as arthritis.

  • Northern regions of Canada had a significantly higher-than-average share of the population who were likely to suffer a major depressive episode, as well as a higher proportion of the population with high blood pressure.

  • Seven per cent of Canadians in rural and small-town Canada live more than 25 km from a physician while about two-thirds of residents in northern remote communities live more than 100 km from a doctor.

    According to Stats Can, initiatives are underway in Canada to develop a set of health indicators specifically for rural communities.

    Another Stats Can report has a title that says it all: "The rural/urban divide is not closing: Income disparities persist." Income disparity is the relative difference in income between high-income areas and low-income areas.

    This study, which involved a complex analysis of income data from tax returns at the census division level (considered equivalent to counties or regional municipalities), found that income disparity between many rural and urban areas widened rather than narrowed from 1992 to 1999. Shockingly, the income gap increased during the period of economic expansion in the second half of the 1990s.

    The geography of income disparities in Canada appears to have shifted slowly but steadily from a provincial to a rural/urban divide. Despite still-sizable provincial differences, the disparity among provinces, in relative terms, has declined over time. The income disparity between rural and urban areas within each province has become a more important factor in explaining the income disparity across Canada's rural and urban areas. A focus on provincial trends could overlook some of the emerging patterns of territorial disparity across Canada.

    Canada's total economic activity became more concentrated in large cities during the decade when "new economy" activities were anticipated to allow a relative growth of economic activities away from metropolitan centres. By the end of the 1990s, census divisions (CDs) with a large aggregate income had further increased their share of national aggregate income, the study found. After a slight decrease at the beginning of the 1990s, the share of income in the largest CDs increased steadily from 1995 onward. The income share of the smallest CDs declined almost steadily from 1992 to 1999.

    Another study revealed that rural women were less active in the labour market than either rural men or urban women. The employment rate was lower among rural women and, among those who were employed, fewer worked full-time.

    There are many wonderful aspects to rural living, but you may want to take off your rose-coloured glasses when you consider a move out of the city. While you will leave many urban problems behind, you'll be exposed to rural concerns which may affect your home and lifestyle just as significantly.

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