Background: Deaths due to suicide, drug overdose and alcohol-related liver disease, collectively known as ‘deaths of despair’, have been markedly increasing since the early 2000s and are especially prominent in young Canadians. Income inequality has been linked to this rise in deaths of despair; however, this association has not yet been examined in a Canadian context, nor at the individual level or in youth. The study objective was to examine the association between income inequality in youth and deaths of despair among youth over time.
Methods: We conducted a population-based longitudinal study of Canadians aged 20 years or younger using data from the Canadian Census Health and Environment Cohorts. Baseline data from the 2006 Canadian Census were linked to the Canadian Vital Statistics Database up to 2019. We employed multilevel survival analysis models to quantify the association between income inequality in youth and time-to deaths of despair.
Results: The study sample included 1.5 million Canadians, representing 7.7 million Canadians between the ages of 0 and 19 at baseline. Results from the weighted, adjusted multilevel survival models demonstrated that income inequality was associated with an increased hazard of deaths of despair (adjusted HR (AHR) 1.35; 95% CI 1.04 to 1.75), drug overdose (AHR 2.38; 95% CI 1.63 to 3.48) and all-cause deaths (AHR 1.10; 95% CI 1.04 to 1.18). Income inequality was not significantly associated with suicide deaths (AHR 1.23, 95% CI 0.93 to 1.63).
Conclusion: The results show that higher levels of income inequality in youth are associated with an increased hazard of all-cause death, deaths of despair and drug overdose in young Canadians. This study is the first to reveal the association between income inequality and deaths of despair in youth and does so using a population-based longitudinal cohort involving multilevel data. The results of this study can inform policies related to income inequality and deaths of despair in Canada.