February 2022 was a major milestone for the Quebec Inter-University Center for Social Statistics (QICSS) when it officially opened its new McGill-Concordia Research Data Center (RDC) laboratory facility along with a new Center d’accès aux données de l’ opened. Institut de la Statistique du Quebec (CADRISQ), at 680 Sherbrooke St. West.
The RDC, one of 33 across the country, provides the McGill community with a wealth of detailed research data from Statistics Canada that is not available to the general public. This micro-data consists of observations at the individual, household or company level and as a secure laboratory facility, the RDC ensures that it is protected in a manner that confidentiality is maintained. Their value is in enabling a robust analysis of group differences, which allows for the study of important and policy relevant subgroup differences.
While the microdata comes primarily from Statistics Canada’s Survey Master Files, RDCs are also increasingly serving as repositories of administrative records from a variety of sources, including tax, employment insurance, welfare and hospital records.
The RDC also houses more recent datasets with variables collected at the enterprise level (e.g. the Business Research Microdata) or as the result of data joins combining information from different data sources about the same individual (e.g. the Canadian Census Health and Environment cohort). – CanCHEC). In all, nearly 200 databases are made available to researchers, covering topics ranging from health, demographics, immigration, labor markets, income inequality, and poverty to the environment, indigenous peoples, economics, and travel and tourism (Get a full list of datasets on-line).
The opening of CADRISQ, the RDC’s sister laboratory, provides access to ISQ survey microdata (from Mininstère de la Santé et des Services Sociaux, Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec, among others) and opens up new opportunities for McGill researchers to work with provincial confidential datasets.
Oversees more than 180 researchers
The first RDC at McGill opened at Peterson Hall in 2006 under the direction of Professor Céline Le Bourdais, Distinguished James McGill Professor of Sociology. It has grown considerably over the years and has become one of the pillars of the QICSS network in the province. Today, with nearly 70 ongoing projects, the McGill-Concordia RDC serves more than 180 researchers, making it the largest in terms of active users.
The new laboratory facility at 680 Sherbrooke St. West was designed to accommodate this growing research community by providing a greater number of computer workstations to access the confidential data sets. With the support of the Office of the Vice Director (Research and Innovation), the planning phases of the new laboratory space project began in 2020, with construction the following year under the supervision of the laboratory’s new academic director, Professor Sébastien Breau, Associate Professor at the Institute of Geography.
Such an investment in high-level infrastructure positions McGill and QICSS well for their continued leadership in advancing the development of social statistics in Quebec and Canada, by providing a state-of-the-art environment for research and contributing to evidence-based policy and decision-making. and training the next generation of highly qualified personnel in the latest methods of quantitative analysis. The latter is particularly important given that more than half of the 180 QICSS lab users are graduate students at McGill. To showcase some of their innovative work, four vignettes follow from PhD students whose research relies on confidential data resources accessed through the RDC facility.
Laëtitia Renée is a PhD student at the Department of Economics (Faculty of Education) under the supervision of Professor Fabian Lange. It examines the impact of different measures to encourage higher education attendance (financial aid, career guidance) on long-term student outcomes such as graduation and income. Despite large institutional investments in such interventions, we do not know if they are effective in improving outcomes over the long term. The lack of knowledge about the impact on long-term outcomes stems from the fact that it is not easy to access reliable longitudinal data on students’ post-secondary educational careers and earnings. In her research, Laëtitia addresses this gap by utilizing unique administrative data from post-secondary institution records and income tax records available at QICSS. This data allows her to examine the impact of three Future to Discover Project interventions on college student enrollment, graduation, and income—from the end of high school to age 28. Their results show that vocational programs are effective in improving students’ outcomes over the long term. In contrast, she finds no evidence that providing additional financial support to students has any long-term financial benefits, consistent with the fact that a number of grants and loans are already available in Canada. Laëtitia’s research is supported by a grant from the Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Société et Culture.
Andrew Stevenson (@AndrStevenson) is a PhD student in the Department of Geography (Faculty of Sciences) working under the supervision of Professor Nancy Ross. He examines how built environments “get under the skin” to impact the health and well-being of Canadians. Together with his colleague Clara Kaufmann, he created the Canadian Food Environment Dataset (Can-FED), a dataset of neighborhood-level food retail environmental measures (e.g., share of fast-food outlets) derived from microdata from Statistics Canada Business To register. Andrew linked the Can-FED measures to individual-level data from the Canadian Health Measures Survey and the Canadian Community Health Survey to determine the extent to which neighborhood grocery retail environments are related to diet and cardiometabolic health at the population level. By linking environmental data with rich health survey data at the individual level via the Canadian Research Data Center Network, he and other researchers can study how social and environmental factors affect health at the population level. Andrew is supported by funds from the Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Santé.
Diego Capurro is a PhD student in the Department of Epidemiology (Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences) under the supervision of Professor Sam Harper. His research focuses on assessing changes in educational inequalities in cancer mortality over time and estimating the potential impact of reducing smoking inequality on cancer mortality risk educational gradients and years of life lost in the Canadian adult population. The recent creation of population-based cohorts by linking censuses, health surveys, and mortality databases provides socioeconomic, health-related, and cause-specific mortality data at the individual level and opens up great opportunities to analyze cancer mortality inequality at the national level. Diego is supported by the Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Santé.
Yvonne Chang is a PhD student at the Institute of Sociology (Faculty of Philosophy) under the supervision of Professor Thomas Soehl. Her research examines patterns in the social inclusion of immigrants in Canada and the importance of specific boundaries, such as region and language, in their experiences. She draws on the 2013 General Social Survey – Social Identity to examine how the Canadian context relates to immigrants’ sense of national and subnational belonging, civic participation, and contact with friends. Her project is supported by doctoral grants from the Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Société et Culture, and detailed analysis would not be possible without access to the limited data set by the Quebec Interuniversity Center for Social Statistics Lab.
For more information or questions about the microdata resources available at the RDC, please contact Geneviève Brunet-Gauthier (email@example.com) or Professor Sébastien Breau (firstname.lastname@example.org). Similar inquiries about provincial data resources available at CADRISQ can be directed to Jocelyn Lefebvre (email@example.com).