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

  • Leigh, Andrew

    (Australian National U)

  • Jencks, Christopher

    (Harvard U)

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 Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government in its series Working Paper Series with number rwp06-032.

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Date of creation: Jul 2006
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Handle: RePEc:ecl:harjfk:rwp06-032
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  1. Deaton, A., 2001. "Health, Inequality, and Economic Development," Papers 200, Princeton, Woodrow Wilson School - Development Studies.
  2. Alberto Alesina & Reza Baqir & William Easterly, 1997. "Public Goods and Ethnic Divisions," NBER Working Papers 6009, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson & Pierre Yared, 2005. "From Education to Democracy?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 44-49, May.
  4. Angus Deaton, 2001. "Relative deprivation, inequality, and mortality," Working Papers 275, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Health and Wellbeing..
  5. 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.
  6. Alesina, Alberto F & La Ferrara, Eliana, 2000. "Who Trusts Others?," CEPR Discussion Papers 2646, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. 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.
  8. Gravelle, Hugh & Wildman, John & Sutton, Matthew, 2002. "Income, income inequality and health: what can we learn from aggregate data?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 54(4), pages 577-589, February.
  9. 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.
  10. Waldmann, Robert J, 1992. "Income Distribution and Infant Mortality," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(4), pages 1283-302, November.
  11. 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.
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