Professor Nicholas Spence's Connaught-funded research studies intra-group differences among Indigenous Peoples in Canada

July 10, 2020 by Tianyang Zheng

Professor Nicholas Spence recently received a Connaught New Researcher Award for his project, "The Impact of Social Context (Income Inequality) on Health Among Indigenous Peoples in Canada." 

The project begins with the understanding that for some Indigenous Peoples in Canada the standard of living is comparable in many respects to that of developing countries but that there, nonetheless, exists great variation across different communities. Professor Spence's research will study the intra-group differences among Indigenous Peoples in Canada by assessing the impact of social context (community) on health outcomes. He will explore the role of relative deprivation, as operationalized by income inequality (i.e., the degree to which income is distributed among people in a community), in understanding health among Indigenous Peoples. 

Professor Spence will achieve his goals by analyzing three existing datasets (e.g., surveys and census data) that contain data about both on-reserve and off-reserve Indigenous peoples in Canada. They include the 2017 Aboriginal Peoples Survey (APS), which is a cross-sectional national survey of 24,220 First Nations people living off-reserve, Métis, and Inuit; the 2016 Census of the Population (CP); and the 2015/16 First Nations Regional Health Survey Phase 3, which is a cross-sectional national survey of 23,167 individuals across First Nations communities in Canada. 

This research will advance understanding of the social determinants of Indigenous Peoples’ health, by focusing on the effect of the social environment within a multilevel framework. It will increase knowledge on the role of relative deprivation and income distributions in health outcomes of Indigenous Peoples and shed light on the pathways that link the social environment with health. Overall, this research will speak to fundamental debates, including the relative importance of individual determinants of health versus contextual determinants of health, the complex interactions between them, as well as psychosocial and behavioural explanations of health. Moreover, this approach will enhance understanding of how health outcomes are created and manifest in marginalized peoples. This novel research may also provide evidence for regional and national policy aimed at reducing inequality, which is sensitive to the heterogeneity of the health outcomes and socioeconomic contexts of Indigenous Peoples, across communities in Canada. 

Professor Spence is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities on the UT Scarborough (UTSC) Campus. His research focuses on social inequality, health, and well-being. He has published various books and scholarly articles in journals such as the American Journal of Epidemiology, Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Cancer, Obesity Research and Clinical Practice, Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, amongst many others.