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Health, inequality, and economic development

  • Angus Deaton

    (Princeton University)

I explore the connection between health and inequality in both poor and rich countries. My primary focus is on the relationship between income inequality and mortality, but I also discuss the effects of inequalities in other, often more important, dimensions. 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, both theoretical and empirical, needs to be treated skeptically, if only because of the low quality of much of the data on income inequality. Although there are many remaining puzzles, I conclude that there is no direct link from income inequality to mortality; individuals are no more likely to die or to report that they are in poor health if they live in places with a more unequal distribution of income. 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 the existence of a direct link between income inequality and health and remains an open question.

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Paper provided by Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Research Program in Development Studies. in its series Working Papers with number 209.

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Date of creation: Aug 2002
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Handle: RePEc:pri:rpdevs:deaton_health_inequality_economic
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