Children from lower income areas face a tougher road than children from higher income areas — and that inequality tends to increase as children go through school.

The findings are published in a report from the University of Manitoba's Faculty of Medicine, which states children living in poorer neighbourhoods are generally less healthy, use more healthcare and social services, and have poorer outcomes in school when compared to children with better socioeconomic backgrounds.

The study, How are Manitoba’s Children Doing, published by the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, looked at almost all Manitoba children aged 19 and under from 2000 to 2010.

It measured well-being in four areas: physical and emotional health; safety and security; education; and social engagement and responsibility.

The study found children from northern regions and those living in the lowest income areas of the province experience the highest mortality rates.

"The rate of child deaths was over three times higher in the lowest income areas compared to the highest," said lead author, Marni Brownell.

Highlights from the 10-year study period:

  • 42 per cent of child deaths in rural areas occurred in the lowest income areas where less than one quarter of the child population lives.
  • 47 per cent of child deaths in urban areas (Winnipeg and Brandon) occurred in the lowest income areas (where less than one-fifth of the child population lives).
  • Injury was the leading cause of child death.

With each additional vulnerability identified in Kindergarten, the likelihood of not meeting expectations for reading and math increases in step-like fashion as the child gets older, the study found.

  • Among children with no vulnerabilities in Kindergarten, only 10 per cent did not meet expectations in Grade 3 reading and 20 per cent in Grade 3 math.
  • Among children with three vulnerabilities in Kindergarten, more than half did not meet expectations in reading and over 55 per cent did not meet math expectations by Grade 3.
  • Among children with five vulnerabilities, about 70 per cent did not meet either reading or math expectations when they got to the third grade.

Seeing as the gaps tend to increase as children progress through school, the early and middle years of childhood may present opportunities for programs and interventions to reduce those gaps, Brownell said.

The study did find some improvements over the decade studied, including a 10 per cent decrease in teen pregnancy rates, a 29 per cent decrease in grade repetition, and a seven per cent increase in high school graduation for Manitoba youth.