An Introduction to the Relationship between Inequality and Health
Chapter 4: How can economic inequality influence health?
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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