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Inequality and Mortality: Long-Run Evidence from a Panel of Countries

  • Andrew Leigh
  • Christopher Jencks

We investigate whether changes in economic inequality affect mortality in rich countries. To answer this question we use a new source of data on income inequality: tax data on the share of pretax income going to the richest 10 percent of the population in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the US between 1903 and 2003. Although this measure is not a good proxy for inequality within the bottom half of the income distribution, it is a good proxy for changes in the top half of the distribution and for the Gini coefficient. In the absence of country and year fixed effects, the income share of the top decile is negatively related to life expectancy and positively related to infant mortality. However, in our preferred fixed-effects specification these relationships are weak, statistically insignificant, and likely to change their sign. Nor do our data suggest that changes in the income share of the richest 10 percent affect homicide or suicide rates.

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Paper provided by Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 533.

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Date of creation: Aug 2006
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Handle: RePEc:auu:dpaper:533
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  1. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson & Pierre Yared, 2005. "From Education to Democracy?," NBER Working Papers 11204, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  4. Alesina, Alberto & Baqir, Reza & Easterly, William, 1999. "Public goods and ethnic divisions," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2108, The World Bank.
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  8. Angus Deaton & Christina Paxson, 2001. "Mortality, Income, and Income Inequality Over Time in Britain and the United States," NBER Working Papers 8534, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Hugh Gravelle & John Wildman & Matthew Sutton, . "Income, Income Inequality and Health: What can we Learn from Aggregate Data?," Discussion Papers 00/26, Department of Economics, University of York.
  10. Meltzer, Allan H & Richard, Scott F, 1981. "A Rational Theory of the Size of Government," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(5), pages 914-27, October.
  11. Andrea Brandolini & Anthony B. Atkinson, 2001. "Promise and Pitfalls in the Use of "Secondary" Data-Sets: Income Inequality in OECD Countries As a Case Study," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 39(3), pages 771-799, September.
  12. Fajnzylber, Pablo & Lederman, Daniel & Loayza, Norman, 2002. "Inequality and Violent Crime," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 45(1), pages 1-40, April.
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