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 7: Income inequality and health: what does the literature tell us?

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


This chapter provides an extensive review of the research on the inequality effect on health. To emphasize the importance of using individual-level data to understand the association between inequality and health, we limit ourselves to studies that use individual-or household-level data. The survey is focused on the income inequality effect, which (apart from the absolute income effect) is the hypothesis that has been tested most frequently in the literature. We are thus interested in studies that examine the effect of population inequality on individual health. A large number of previous studies have analysed the link between income inequality and population health. One of the first studies testing the inequality hypothesis in this manner found that income inequality was associated with both infant mortality and life expectancy at age five, using data for 56 developed and developing countries (Rodgers, 1979). A clear majority of the following studies using population data has also found support for the inequality hypothesis, many of the studies focusing on objective health measures, such as Pampel and Pillai (1986), child mortality; Duleep (1995), adult mortality; Pickett et al., (2005), obesity. A recent review also states that several recently published articles using aggregate variables provide substantial new evidence that equality will improve population health and well-being (Pickett and Wilkinson, 2015).

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