The Health Effects of Income Inequality: Averages and Disparities

Posted: 22 Mar 2016

See all articles by Beth C. Truesdale

Beth C. Truesdale

Harvard University - Department of Sociology

Christopher Jencks

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: March 2016

Abstract

Much research has investigated the association of income inequality with average life expectancy, usually finding negative correlations that are not very robust. A smaller body of work has investigated socioeconomic disparities in life expectancy, which have widened in many countries since 1980. These two lines of work should be seen as complementary because changes in average life expectancy are unlikely to affect all socioeconomic groups equally. Although most theories imply long and variable lags between changes in income inequality and changes in health, empirical evidence is confined largely to short-term effects. Rising income inequality can affect individuals in two ways. Direct effects change individuals' own income. Indirect effects change other people's income, which can then change a society's politics, customs, and ideals, altering the behavior even of those whose own income remains unchanged. Indirect effects can thus change both average health and the slope of the relationship between individual income and health.

Suggested Citation

Truesdale, Beth C. and Jencks, Christopher, The Health Effects of Income Inequality: Averages and Disparities (March 2016). Annual Review of Public Health, Vol. 37, pp. 413-430, 2016, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2752946 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev-publhealth-032315-021606

Beth C. Truesdale (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Sociology ( email )

33 Kirkland Street
William James Hall, Sixth Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Christopher Jencks

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-0546 (Phone)
617-496-9053 (Fax)

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