Life expectancy in the Inuit-inhabited areas of Canada, 1989 to 2003

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by Russell Wilkins, Sharanjit Uppal, Philippe Finès, Sacha Senécal, Éric Guimond and Rene Dion



Because of a lack of Aboriginal identifiers on death registrations, standard data sources and methods cannot be used to estimate basic health indicators for Inuit in Canada. Instead, a geographic-based approach was used to estimate life expectancy for the entire population of Inuit-inhabited areas.

Data sources

The data are from the Canadian Mortality Database and the Census of Canada.

Analytical techniques

Areas where at least 33% of residents were Inuit were identified, based on census results. Vital statistics death records for 1989 through 2003 and census population counts for 1991, 1996 and 2001 were used to compute abridged life tables for the Inuit-inhabited areas in each of the three 5-year periods centered around those census years.

Main results

In 1991, life expectancy at birth in the Inuit-inhabited areas was about 68 years, which was 10 years lower than for Canada overall. From 1991 to 2001, life expectancy in the Inuit-inhabited areas did not increase, although it rose by about two years for Canada as a whole. As a result, the gap widened to more than 12 years.  Life expectancy in the Inuit-inhabited areas was generally highest in the Inuvialuit region (Northwest Territories) and Nunavut (Territory), followed by Nunatsiavut (Labrador) and Nunavik (Quebec). While these results are not specific to the Inuit population, such geographic-based methods can be used with any administrative datasets that include postal codes or municipal-level locality codes.


ethnic groups, infant mortality, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, vital statistics


According to the 2001 census, 976,000 Canadians (3% of the total population) self-identified as Aboriginal: First Nations (North American Indian), Métis or Inuit. About 5% of the Aboriginal-identity population, numbering more than 45,000, were Inuit. Inuit are descended from Aboriginal people who historically inhabited the Arctic regions of Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Siberia. Most Inuit in Canada now reside in one of four regions:  the Inuvialuit region (along the Arctic coast of the Northwest Territories), Nunavut (eastern Arctic territory), Nunavik (northern Quebec), and Nunatsiavut (northern coast of Labrador).  [Full text]


Russell Wilkins (1-613-951-5305; Sharanjit Uppal and Philippe Finès are with the Health Information and Research Division at Statistics Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0T6. Sacha Senécal and Éric Guimond are with the Strategic Research and Analysis Directorate, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.  Rene Dion is with the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Health Canada.


We are grateful to the vital statistics registrars of the provinces and territories for providing the death data to Statistics Canada. We are also grateful to the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch of Health Canada and the Strategic Research and Analysis Directorate of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada for their sustained financial, intellectual and moral support.  Jean-Marie Berthelot and François Gendron (formerly of the Health Analysis and Measurement Group, Statistics Canada) were instrumental in the early phases of this work. Chris Penney (First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Health Canada) and Adam Probert (Physical Health Measures Division, Statistics Canada) provided valuable comments throughout the study.