• Dr. Lucas

Inequality and Health

Mal-distributions of income don't just impact the wealth of nations. Inequality also helps determine the health of nations.

How do inequality and health relate? Increasing evidence from scientists the world over indicates that many health outcomes — everything from life expectancy to infant mortality and obesity — can be linked to the level of economic inequality within a given population. Greater economic inequality appears to lead to worse health outcomes.

By greater inequality, epidemiologists — the scientists who study the health of populations — don’t just mean poverty. Poor health and poverty do go hand-in-hand. But high levels of inequality, the epidemiological research shows, negatively affect the health of even the affluent, mainly because, researchers contend, inequality reduces social cohesion, a dynamic that leads to more stress, fear, and insecurity for everyone.

Economists and health experts have known for years that people who live in poorer societies live shorter lives. But research also points to an additional factor in explaining life expectancy: a society’s level of inequality. People live longer in nations with lower levels of inequality, as measured here by the Gini coefficient, a standard global benchmark. In the United States, average life expectancy is four years shorter than in some of the most equitable countries.

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