An Introduction to the Relationship between Inequality and Health
Imagine a household so poor that 90 per cent of all households in the same country have higher disposable incomes. By how much would the income of this particular household have to increase to place it among the top 10 per cent of households? The answer depends on the country in which the household resides. In Sweden, its disposable income would have to triple to move from the lowest 10 per cent to the highest 10 per cent. This may sound like a large change, but by international standards, Sweden is a nation with very little income inequality. The household’s income would have to be multiplied by four in Germany and by six in the USA. In Colombia, the household’s income would have to be increased by a factor of 11 to move from the bottom tenth percentile to the top tenth. In other words, the extent of income inequality varies drastically across countries. There are also large differences in life expectancy across countries. Life expectancy at birth is 81 years in Sweden, 79 in Germany, 78 in the USA and only 73 in Colombia. If the data for these countries are plotted in a graph with income inequality on the horizontal axis and life expectancy on the vertical, a pattern arises: people in societies with greater income inequality tend to live shorter lives (see Figure 1.1).