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Income inequality and health: Importance of a cross-country perspective


  • Karlsson, Martin
  • Nilsson, Therese
  • Lyttkens, Carl Hampus
  • Leeson, George


This paper uses a unique dataset-containing information collected in 2006 on individuals aged 40-79 in 21 countries throughout the world to examine whether individual income, relative income in a reference group, and income inequality are related to health status across middle/low and high-income countries. The dependent variable is self-assessed health (SAH), and as a robustness check, activities of daily living (ADL) are considered. The focus is particularly on assumptions regarding an individual's reference group and on how the estimated relationships depend on the level of economic development. Correcting for national differences in health reporting behavior, individual absolute income is found to be positively related to individual health. Furthermore, in the high-income sample, there is strong evidence that average income within a peer-age group is negatively related to health, thus supporting the relative income hypothesis. In middle/low-income countries, it is instead average regional income that is negatively associated with health. Finally, there is evidence of a negative relationship between income inequality and individual health in high-income countries. Overall, the results suggest that there might be important differences in these relationships between high-income and middle/low-income countries.

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  • Karlsson, Martin & Nilsson, Therese & Lyttkens, Carl Hampus & Leeson, George, 2010. "Income inequality and health: Importance of a cross-country perspective," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 70(6), pages 875-885, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:70:y:2010:i:6:p:875-885

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Herzer, Dierk & Nunnenkamp, Peter, 2015. "Income inequality and health: Evidence from developed and developing countries," Economics - The Open-Access, Open-Assessment E-Journal, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW), vol. 9, pages 1-56.
    2. Elgar, Frank J. & Gariépy, Geneviève & Torsheim, Torbjørn & Currie, Candace, 2017. "Early-life income inequality and adolescent health and well-being," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 174(C), pages 197-208.
    3. Karlsdotter, Kristina & Martín Martín, José J. & López del Amo González, M. Puerto, 2012. "Multilevel analysis of income, income inequalities and health in Spain," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 74(7), pages 1099-1106.
    4. Nilsson, Therese & Bergh, Andreas, 2012. "Income Inequality and Individual Health: Exploring the Association in a Developing Country," Working Papers 2012:1, Lund University, Department of Economics.
    5. Owen O'Donnell & Eddy Van Doorslaer & Tom Van Ourti, 2013. "Health and Inequality," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 13-170/V, Tinbergen Institute.
    6. Costa-Font, Joan & Mas, Núria, 2016. "‘Globesity’? The effects of globalization on obesity and caloric intake," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 121-132.
    7. Lillard, Dean R. & Burkhauser, Richard V. & Hahn, Markus H. & Wilkins, Roger, 2015. "Does early-life income inequality predict self-reported health in later life? Evidence from the United States," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 128(C), pages 347-355.
    8. Bergh, Andreas & Nilsson, Therese, 2010. "Good for Living? On the Relationship between Globalization and Life Expectancy," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 38(9), pages 1191-1203, September.
    9. Loree, Jacob, 2015. "State Level Income Inequality and Individual Self-Reported Health Status: Evidence from the United States," MPRA Paper 72638, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    10. Nádia Simões & Nuno Crespo & Sandrina B. Moreira & Celeste A. Varum, 2016. "Measurement and determinants of health poverty and richness: evidence from Portugal," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 50(4), pages 1331-1358, June.
    11. Cristina Blanco-Perez, 2012. "Rethinking the Relative Income Hypothesis," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 501, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    12. Fedotenkov, Igor & Derkachev, Pavel, 2017. "Gender longevity gap and socioeconomic indicators in developed countries," MPRA Paper 83215, University Library of Munich, Germany.


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