High income inequality has been linked to inequality of longevity by new research from the London School of Economics and Politics and Political Science (LSE) and the Vienna University of Economics and Business.
According to the research by Professors Eric Neumayer and Thomas Plümper, published in the latest issue of the American Journal of Public Health, greater income inequality before taxes and income transfers in a country results in greater inequality in the number of years people in that country live. In contrast, the greater the re-distribution of incomes via taxes and transfers, the greater the equality in life spans.
Eric Neumayer, Professor of Environment and Development at LSE, said: “Our research gets to the heart of why income inequality matters beyond concerns about people having more or less money to buy material goods, for example. One of its consequences, namely inequality in how long people live, is profoundly disturbing.”
Among the Western developed countries the researchers looked at, the United States was the most unequal in longevity, with relatively high pre-tax income inequality and relatively low income re-distribution. Eastern European countries in the sample such as Estonia, Poland and the Slovak Republic, were also among the most unequal in longevity.
Even when the researchers re-analysed their findings without including these countries, to find out if they alone were determining the results, their findings concerning the link between income inequality and longevity inequality upheld.
The countries that had the lowest levels of inequality of lifespans were Iceland, Sweden and Switzerland. The United Kingdom was close to the average.
Countries with higher levels of income inequality often have a higher prevalence of poverty, which increases the number of premature deaths among the poor and leads to greater inequality in longevity. The researchers suggest two other ways in which income inequality results in higher inequality in longevity:
- High income inequality can lead to the spatial segregation of the rich and the poor. Poorer communities and neighbourhoods have lower levels of social cohesion, experience higher rates of crime, social disorder and violence and receive fewer and lower-quality public services, with potentially negative health consequences for those that live there.
- Income inequality can also affect political decision making, with the very rich having much more influence. This can skew policies towards benefitting the relatively rich at the expense of the relatively poor, for example, by lowering government investment in publicly funded education, health care and other public services that benefit people independently of their personal income.
Professor Neumayer said: “Governments can ensure that longevity is more equally distributed, well beyond any specific health care policies or health and safety regulations, by putting in place policies that ensure income is more equally distributed across a society.”
This is the first research to look at the link between income inequality and longevity inequality across countries. The researchers’ analysis looked at 28, mainly Western developed, nations over a period spanning up to 37 years (1974 to 2011).
Inequalities of Income and Inequalities of Longevity: A Cross-Country Study by Eric Neumayer and Thomas Plümper is published in the January issue of the American Journal of Public Health
London School of Economics and Politics and Political Science (LSE)