World health inequality: Convergence, divergence, and development
Recent studies characterize the last half of the twentieth century as an era of cross-national health convergence, with some attributing welfare gains in the developing world to economic growth. In this study, I examine the extent to which welfare outcomes have actually converged and the extent to which economic development is responsible for the observed trends. Drawing from estimates covering 195 nations during the 1955-2005 period, I find that life expectancy averages converged during this time, but that infant mortality rates continuously diverged. I develop a narrative that implicates economic development in these contrasting trends, suggesting that health outcomes follow a "welfare Kuznets curve." Among poor countries, economic development improves life expectancy more than it reduces infant mortality, whereas the situation is reversed among wealthier nations. In this way, development has contributed to both convergence in life expectancy and divergence in infant mortality. Drawing from 674 observations across 163 countries during the 1980-2005 period, I find that the positive effect of GDP PC on life expectancy attenuates at higher levels of development, while the negative effect of GDP PC on infant mortality grows stronger.
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Volume (Year): 72 (2011)
Issue (Month): 4 (February)
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