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The Economic Determinants of Health Inequalities

Listed author(s):
  • David Mayston

It has been argued by several commentators (e.g. Wilkinson, Evans) that psycho-social stress associated with an individual’s relative position in the social and economic hierarchy is a predominant determinant of their health status, with an individual’s absolute level of income of lesser importance. In this paper, we argue that the concentration on psycho-social stress as the primary pathway for health determination neglects a number of important economic pathways for the impact of relative income on health. These economic pathways include firstly the impact on health of positional goods, whose absolute level of consumption is a function of the relative position of an individual in the distribution of income and wealth. One key positional good is that of land, whose consumption level has important health-determining correlates, such as overcrowding, sanitation needs, commuting stress, pollution levels, and mortgage pressures. The second economic pathway involves changes in relative prices associated with rising absolute incomes, which interact with different price and income elasticities for different commodities that possess different health-inducing characteristics, to produce a pattern of health inequalities within and across countries, as a function of relative and absolute income levels, that is similar to that observed. The third economic pathway examined is that of the hysteresis effect of past economic stresses on the current state of individual human capital and relative competitiveness and their associated health levels. Each of these economic pathways is examined, and their importance analysed, in the context of both the Aboriginal population of Australia and inner city areas in the UK, and their associated major health inequalities.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics, University of York in its series Discussion Papers with number 00/49.

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Handle: RePEc:yor:yorken:00/49
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Department of Economics and Related Studies, University of York, York, YO10 5DD, United Kingdom

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  1. Baumol, William J, 1972. "Macroeconomics of Unbalanced Growth: Reply," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 62(1), pages 150-150, March.
  2. Grossman, Michael, 1972. "On the Concept of Health Capital and the Demand for Health," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 80(2), pages 223-255, March-Apr.
  3. Lave, Judith R & Lave, Lester B, 1970. "Hospital Cost Functions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 60(3), pages 379-395, June.
  4. George Akerlof, 1976. "The Economics of Caste and of the Rat Race and Other Woeful Tales," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 90(4), pages 599-617.
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