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A Canadian Neighbourhood Index for Socioeconomic Status Associated with Early Child Development

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Neighbourhoods encompass the social, institutional, and environmental determinants that influence the developmental health of the children who reside in them. A number of different socioeconomic indices have been developed to determine which neighbourhood-level indicators are most strongly associated with early child development outcomes in Canada. While these indices attempt to account for variability in outcomes across neighbourhoods, they have some important limitations: they either do not use indicators meaningful for families with young children or they are based on a large number of indicators. Here we describe how we developed a new index, the Canadian Neighbourhoods Early Child Development (CanNECD) SES Index, which addresses these limitations. Socioeconomic and demographic variables for custom-defined neighbourhoods were obtained from Canada Census and income tax data. Measures of developmental health came from the Early Development Instrument, a teacher-completed questionnaire measuring vulnerability across five developmental domains in kindergarten. We selected variables for the index based on empirical relationships to health and/or social determinants of health, then used exploratory factor analyses and linear regressions to choose ten variables that maximized explanatory power and interpretability for developmental health. The CanNECD SES Index accounts for 32% of the variance in neighbourhood-level overall vulnerability across developmental domains, whereas existing indices account for 17% or less. Analyses within individual Canadian provinces indicate that the explanatory power of our index ranges from 13 to 42%. This new tool will help us understand patterns of children’s developmental health as they relate to social determinants of health. It can be used in combination with other datasets to examine neighbourhood effects on children’s developmental health outcomes.

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  2. For collection in 2011 only, the long-form version of the census was replaced by a voluntary survey called the National Household Survey.


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This study was conceived by Clyde Hertzman, Martin Guhn, and Magdalena Janus, who were the co-Principal Investigators on the Canadian Institutes of Health Research operating grant that supported this work.


The study was supported by an operating grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (FRN 125965).

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Correspondence to Barry Forer.

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Research Involving Human Participants

Ethics approval for this study was granted by the Behavioural Research Ethics Board at the University of British Columbia. The confidentiality of study participants is protected as the EDI, Census and Income Taxfiler data for this project are aggregated to the neighbourhood level, and hosted in a secure database system. As such, informed consent was not required.

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Forer, B., Minh, A., Enns, J. et al. A Canadian Neighbourhood Index for Socioeconomic Status Associated with Early Child Development. Child Ind Res 13, 1133–1154 (2020).

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