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Income inequality and adult nutritional status: Anthropometric evidence from a pre-industrial society in the Bolivian Amazon

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  • Godoy, Ricardo
  • Byron, Elizabeth
  • Reyes-García, Victoria
  • Vadez, Vincent
  • Leonard, William R.
  • Apaza, Lilian
  • Huanca, Tomás
  • Pérez, Eddy
  • Wilkie, David

Abstract

Evidence has been accumulated about the adverse effects of income inequality on individual health in industrial nations, but we know less about its effect in small-scale, pre-industrial rural societies. Income inequality should have modest effects on individual health. First, norms of sharing and reciprocity should reduce the adverse effects of income inequality on individual health. Second, with sharing and reciprocity, personal income will spill over to the rest of the community, attenuating the protective role of individual income on individual health found in industrial nations. We test these ideas with data from Tsimane' Amerindians, a foraging and farming society in the Bolivian Amazon. Subjects included 479 household heads (13+ years of age) from 58 villages. Dependent variables included anthropometric indices of short-run nutritional status (body-mass index (BMI), and age- and sex-standardized z-scores of mid-arm muscle area and skinfolds). Proxies for income included area deforested per person the previous year and earnings per person in the last 2 weeks. Village income inequality was measured with the Gini coefficient. Income inequality did not correlate with anthropometric indices, most likely because of negative indirect effects from the omission of social-capital variables, which would lower the estimated impact of income inequality on health. The link between BMI and income and between skinfolds and income resembled a U and an inverted U; income did not correlate with mid-arm muscle area. The use of an experimental research design might allow for better estimates of how income inequality affects social capital and individual health.

Suggested Citation

  • Godoy, Ricardo & Byron, Elizabeth & Reyes-García, Victoria & Vadez, Vincent & Leonard, William R. & Apaza, Lilian & Huanca, Tomás & Pérez, Eddy & Wilkie, David, 2005. "Income inequality and adult nutritional status: Anthropometric evidence from a pre-industrial society in the Bolivian Amazon," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 61(5), pages 907-919, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:61:y:2005:i:5:p:907-919
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Valeggia, Claudia R. & Burke, Kevin M. & Fernandez-Duque, Eduardo, 2010. "Nutritional status and socioeconomic change among Toba and Wichí populations of the Argentinean Chaco," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 8(1), pages 100-110, March.
    2. Godoy, Ricardo A. & Patel, Ankur & Reyes-García, Victoria & Seyfried, Craig Jr. & Leonard, William R. & McDade, Thomas & Tanner, Susan & Vadez, Vincent, 2006. "Nutritional status and spousal empowerment among native Amazonians," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 63(6), pages 1517-1530, September.
    3. Reyes-García, Victoria & McDade, Thomas W. & Molina, Jose Luis & Leonard, William R. & Tanner, Susan N. & Huanca, Tomas & Godoy, Ricardo, 2008. "Social rank and adult male nutritional status: Evidence of the social gradient in health from a foraging-farming society," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 67(12), pages 2107-2115, December.
    4. Godoy, Ricardo A. & Reyes-García, Victoria & McDade, Thomas & Huanca, Tomás & Leonard, William R. & Tanner, Susan & Vadez, Vincent, 2006. "Does village inequality in modern income harm the psyche? Anger, fear, sadness, and alcohol consumption in a pre-industrial society," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 63(2), pages 359-372, July.
    5. Reyes-García, Victoria & Molina, Jose Luis & McDade, Thomas W. & Tanner, Susan N. & Huanca, Tomas & Leonard, William R., 2009. "Inequality in social rank and adult nutritional status: Evidence from a small-scale society in the Bolivian Amazon," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 69(4), pages 571-578, August.
    6. Godoy, Ricardo & Zeinalova, Elizabeth & Reyes-García, Victoria & Huanca, Tomás & Kosiewicz, Holly & Leonard, William R. & Tanner, Susan, 2010. "Does civilization cause discontentment among indigenous Amazonians? Test of empirical data from the Tsimane' of Bolivia," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 31(4), pages 587-598, August.

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