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Does income inequality really influence individual mortality?


  • Øystein Kravdal

    (Universitetet i Oslo)


There is still much uncertainty about the impact of income inequality on health and mortality. Some studies have supported the original hypothesis about adverse effects, while others have shown no effects. One problem in these investigations is that there are many factors that may affect both income inequality and individual mortality but that cannot be adequately controlled for. The longitudinal Norwegian register data available for this study allowed municipality dummies to be included in the models to pick up time-invariant unobserved factors at that level. The results were compared with those from similar models without such dummies. The focus was on mortality in men and women aged 30-79 in the years 1980-2002, and the data included about 500000 deaths within 50 million person-years of exposure. While the models without municipality dummies suggested that income inequality in the municipality of residence, as measured by the Gini coefficient, had an adverse effect on mortality net of individual income, the results from the models that included such dummies were more mixed. Adverse effects appeared among the youngest, while among older men, there even seemed to be beneficial effects. In addition to illustrating the potential importance of controlling for unobserved factors by adding community dummies (doing a ‘fixed-effects analysis’ according to common terminology in econometrics), the findings should add to the scepticism about the existence of harmful health effects of income inequality, at least in the Nordic context.

Suggested Citation

  • Øystein Kravdal, 2008. "Does income inequality really influence individual mortality?," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 18(7), pages 205-232, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:dem:demres:v:18:y:2008:i:7

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jennifer M. Mellor & Jeffrey D. Milyo, 2001. "Income inequality and health," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 20(1), pages 151-155.
    2. Ulf-G. Gerdtham & Magnus Johannesson, 2004. "Absolute Income, Relative Income, Income Inequality, and Mortality," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 39(1).
    3. Jennifer M. Mellor & Jeffrey Milyo, 1999. "Re-Examining the Evidence of an Ecological Association between Income Inequality and Health," Discussion Papers Series, Department of Economics, Tufts University 9922, Department of Economics, Tufts University.
    4. Jennifer M. Mellor & Jeffrey Milyo, 2002. "Income Inequality and Health Status in the United States: Evidence from the Current Population Survey," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 37(3), pages 510-539.
    5. Islam, M. Kamrul & Merlo, Juan & Kawachi, Ichiro & Lindstr m, Martin & Burstr m, Kristina & Gerdtham, Ulf-G., 2006. "Does it really matter where you live? A panel data multilevel analysis of Swedish municipality-level social capital on individual health-related quality of life," Health Economics, Policy and Law, Cambridge University Press, vol. 1(03), pages 209-235, July.
    6. Paul Gertler & John Molyneaux, 1994. "How economic development and family planning programs combined to reduce indonesian fertility," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 31(1), pages 33-63, February.
    7. Rosenzweig, Mark R & Wolpin, Kenneth I, 1986. "Evaluating the Effects of Optimally Distributed Public Programs: ChildHealth and Family Planning Interventions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(3), pages 470-482, June.
    8. Ronald Rindfuss & David Guilkey & S. Morgan & Øystein Kravdal & Karen Guzzo, 2007. "Child care availability and first-birth timing in Norway," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 44(2), pages 345-372, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Trude Lappegård, 2008. "Family Policies and Fertility: Parents' Parental Leave Use, Childcare Availability, the Introduction of Childcare Cash Benefit and Continued Childbearing in Norway," Discussion Papers 564, Statistics Norway, Research Department.

    More about this item


    fixed effects; Gini Index; income; inequality; mortality; multilevel model; municipality; Norway; registers;

    JEL classification:

    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics
    • Z0 - Other Special Topics - - General


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