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Health, Inequality, and Economic Development

  • Angus Deaton

I explore the connection between income inequality and health in both poor and rich countries. I discuss a range of mechanisms, including nonlinear income effects, credit restrictions, nutritional traps, public goods provision, and relative deprivation. I review the evidence on the effects of income inequality on the rate of decline of mortality over time, on geographical pattens of mortality, and on individual-level mortality. Much of the literature needs to be treated skeptically, if only because of the low quality of much of the data on income inequality. Although there are many puzzles that remain, I conclude that there is no direct link from income inequality to ill-health; individuals are no more likely to die if they live in more unequal places. The raw correlations that are sometimes found are likely the result of factors other than income inequality, some of which are intimately linked to broader notions of inequality and unfairness. That income inequality itself is not a health risk does not deny the importance for health of other inequalities, nor of the social environment. Whether income redistribution can improve population health does not depend on a direct effect of income inequality and remains an open question.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 8318.

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Date of creation: Jun 2001
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Publication status: published as Angus Deaton, 2003. "Health, Inequality, and Economic Development," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 41(1), pages 113-158, March.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8318
Note: AG CH HC
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