Why is Metro Vancouver so hard on immigrants' health?
This bad news about Metro was buried in a recent report from Statistics Canada, which surveyed 7,000 immigrants and found roughly one in 10 report poor health four years after most arrive in decent shape.
The StatsCan report had no trouble emphasizing its unsurprising findings that newcomers to Canada who are refugees, older, can't find work and struggle with English or French end up reporting more illness.
But it didn't do anything to explore Vancouver's correlation with sickness.
A close examination of a StatsCan chart, however, revealed that men who immigrate to Vancouver are twice as likely to report poor health compared to males who choose Toronto.
Female immigrants are 1.5 times more inclined to struggle with their health in Vancouver compared to women who end up in Ontario's largest city.
The figures are not much better for immigrant males who choose Vancouver instead of Montreal.
The StatsCan longitudinal study suggested the findings about Vancouver needed further research. Yet, after consulting with noted Vancouver immigration specialist Richard Kurland, we have come up with four possible reasons why Vancouver is unusually rough on immigrants' physical and mental health.
The first reason is actually hinted at in the report, written by StatsCan official Edward Ng, as well as Kevin Pottie and Denise Spitzer, both of the University of Ottawa.
It relates to housing. The report inadvertently linked the two by cryptically reporting “declining health” among new immigrants “who were not satisfied with their housing, and who lived in Vancouver.”
Although the statisticians didn't draw a direct connection, Kurland is among those who recognize that Metro Vancouver's inflated housing prices are hard on the health of everyone, immigrant and non-immigrant.
“Housing is always a Vancouver problem,” he said.
It's not hard to imagine how expensive housing can lead to cramped living, extended families being forced to tensely live together and long com-mutes to work.
The second reason immigrants to Metro Vancouver may report declining health, Kurland suggests, has to do with the way medical services are provided in B.C.
Compared to decentralized Ontario and Quebec, Kurland said the leading medical facilities for physical and mental conditions in B.C. are heavily concentrated in Metro Vancouver.
Whereas smaller cities such as Hamilton, Windsor, Quebec City and Trois-Rivieres are well endowed with health facilities, Kurland suggested some immigrants to B.C. who end up sick divert to Metro because it has by far the most comprehensive medical centres.
A third factor explaining why more immigrants to Metro Vancouver report ill health, Kurland maintained, has to do with the high ratio of South Asians who move to this West Coast city, compared to Toronto and Montreal.
Since more South Asians come to Metro, and South Asians are more likely to immigrate in the name of “family reunification,” Kurland said more are parents and grandparents who have “borderline” health.
Vancouver traffic congestion
The fourth reason immigrants in Metro Vancouver more often succumb to ill health likely relates to the city's tough job market.
The employment challenge is almost always harder on male immigrants, who typically arrive from Asian countries where there is a strong emphasis on men as the main, or even sole, bread winners.
Men typically bring their families to Canada full of hope for economic prosperity. But many men soon find that their wives start doing better than them in the job market, while they remain unemployed or underemployed.
“Studies repeatedly show that immigration failures are predominantly male,” said Kurland.
The difficulties for male immigrants may be especially severe in Metro Vancouver, which does not have the range of manufacturing, professional and small business opportunities that are more available in Eastern Canada.
“The pride issue is huge for immigrant men,” said Kurland. While female immigrants often take modest jobs in the retail sector, husbands who fail to find good careers often fall into depression, which contributes to poor health.
It is highly significant that immigrants who choose Metro report poorer health than those who move elsewhere in Canada. The four factors outlined here could well be important. But we eagerly await more thorough studies.