Chapter 6 Ethnicity and Health: Social and Cultural Factors
It has been estimated that since 1990 Canada has received on average 200 000 immigrants per year,
proportionately more than any other country.
The Social and cultural Construction of Health and Illness
Sociologist and anthropologists, however, have shown us that health and illness are social
constructions; they are not objectively defined
Definitions of health and illness, and understandings of appropriate health care vary over time and
Furthermore, in any society, some members have more power than others to define health and illness.
In Canadian society, the dominant cultural model of health and illness is that of biomedicine, and the
experts are health professionals, such as doctors.
Different cultures have different understandings of health and illness, and people within societies are
differentially located with respects to access to expert knowledge in this area.
Ethnic Diversity in Canada
At the beginning of the 20 century, the majority of immigrants came from the United Kingdom and
United States; however, by the 1910s and 1920s there were increased numbers from European countries
such as Russia, Ukraine, Hungry and Italy.
Immigration from Asia was law, and there is evidence that Canada’s immigration policy had racist
A change came in 1967 when immigration regulations replaced national origin as a criterion with an
assigned point system based on an applicant’s age, education, language skills, and economic
In 1978 a new Immigration Act incorporated humanitarian grounds as a basis for admission.
Changes in immigration policies over the past century have shaped the ethno-cultural composition of
The most dramatic difference in the face of Canada between the first two-thirds of the 20 century and
the Canada today is the large proportion of immigrants from non-European countries.
How Are Ethnicity and Health Related?
The ‘Healthy Immigrant Effect’
There is a belief among some Canadians the immigrants are not healthy and that they over utilize health-
In fact, it has been well documented that when immigrants first arrive in Canada they are in better health
than native-born Canadians and they also have lower mortality rates.
However, once they have lived in the country for a number of years, their health status declines and
shows patterns that are similar to those of native-born Canadians or immigrants who have been in
Canada for a period longer than 10 years.
This health advantage that newly arrived immigrants appear to have is referred to as the health
A couple of possible reasons have been given for the healthy immigrant effect o One explanation might be that the immigration process is such that it selects what are perceived
as the best immigrants on the basis of edu