Sick of Inequality?

Sick of Inequality?

An Introduction to the Relationship between Inequality and Health

Andreas Bergh, Therese Nilsson and Daniel Waldenström

There is a clear trend in rich countries that despite rising incomes and living standards, the gap between rich and poor is widening. What does this mean for our health? Does increasing income inequality affect outcomes such as obesity, life expectancy and subjective well-being? Are rich and poor groups affected in the same ways? This book reviews the latest research on the relationship between inequality and health. It provides the reader with a pedagogical introduction to the tools and knowledge required to understand and assess the issue. Main conclusions from the literature are then summarized and discussed critically.

Chapter 4: How can economic inequality influence health?

Andreas Bergh, Therese Nilsson and Daniel Waldenström

Subjects: economics and finance, health policy and economics, welfare economics, politics and public policy, public administration and management, social policy and sociology, health policy and economics, sociology and sociological theory

Extract

When exploring whether income differences cause bad health, one ought to have an idea of the mechanisms that might drive this relationship. Not doing so might lead to erroneous conclusions about which factors are relatively important and which are relatively unimportant or, naturally, whether an empirical correlation even exists. Determining whether economic inequality develops into health problems is no less important from a policy perspective. The lessons from the research on these links, as well as the mechanisms underlying them, can offer useful insights into the results of economic policy. Figure 4.1 outlines possible connections among income, income inequality and health. First, an individual’s own income is likely to affect their health. Someone who has more money can afford better food and housing, can prevent health problems to a greater extent, such as having the resources to go to the gym regularly, and can avoid postponing doctor’s visits due to limited resources. When an individual becomes richer, their health should consequently improve. This relationship is indicated by arrow 1 in the figure. Likewise, someone in good health is better able to work hard and for long hours than someone who is ill, thus earning more money and advancing their career. Hence, the opposite relationship is also likely – a person’s health is affected by his or her income. This effect is indicated by arrow 2 in the figure.

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