This analysis post will expand on the blog’s previous discussion of wealth inequality and will break down its relationship with health.
The high stress and limited access to healthcare within unequal societies leads to increased disease. Income inequality is an important issue because solving it could mean increased opportunities, improved health, and even longer lifespans for individuals who do not find themselves in the 1%. In order to have a holistic understanding of the status of inequality, we will look at a brief economic history of the United States. We will then discover how inequality is negatively correlated with social capital, and will look at how poor social relations and low trust lead to increased crime, violence, and poor health within a society.
What is Economic inequality?
“Income inequality refers to the extent to which income is distributed in an uneven manner among a population”.
Some of you may have read my previous post on economic inequality in America. In this post I detailed the status of income inequality in America and even brought in data from a 2016 study of North Carolina that revealed that in our state, the average individual in the 1% in earns over $600,000 more than the average citizen in the 99%. Nationally, this gap is even wider.
In Richard Wilkinson’s The Impact of Inequality, Wilkinson claims that more unequal societies have less social cohesion. One-way inequality is linked to health is through low social capital. Social Capital is a way to measure how cohesive a community is and how meaningful the social relations are. In communities where there is lower social capital and high inequality there is less trust, more violence, and increased rates of disease. Social capital and income inequality are also linked to teen pregnancy.
The World Health Organization describes health as: “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
In poor communities, many lack access to health care and resources to prevent pregnancy. Income inequality positively correlates with mortality. People living in areas with high inequality often find themselves trapped in a cycle of poverty.
42% of children born into poverty in the United States will remain in poverty.
This strongly contrasts with the rates discovered in two other industrialized and wealthy countries; 25% of children staying in poverty in Denmark and 30% in Great Britain.
Another study mentioned in The Impact of Inequality compares the lives of black American males in the United States, a nation with high inequality, with males in Costa Rica, a country with low inequality. The America males had higher incomes than the Costa Ricans, but lower life expectancies. This shows that incomes are not the sole factor that affect life expectancy and quality of life. There are other factors that influence well-being besides socioeconomic status. One example of these factors is social capital.
The most equal societies in the world are hunter-gatherer societies where there isn’t private property ownership and the community operates in a spirit of reciprocity. These societies also do not have social hierarchies aside from maybe one leader or shaman.
In our society, materialism is rampant and the “America Dream” is centered around the economic and social achievement of the individual.
However, our current economic system limits social mobility and creates a few winners at the expense of the majority of Americans.
A Brief History of Inequality in America
In 1913 the 1% received around 18% of total income and the 16th Amendment to the Constitution was signed, giving Congress permission to collect an income tax. Fifteen years later in 1928, income inequality was at a high with 23% of the nation’s income went to the highest earning 1%. Following the Great Depression and World War II inequality decreased by close to 12% and remained this was for around thirty years.
In the 1970’s the imbalance began to grow again, and today the 1% possesses over 20% of the country’s income. The bottom 90% has less that 50% of the nation’s income. Though the great recession that occurred in 2008 did impact the wealth, many were able to recover promptly and did not suffer the consequences that influenced so many other Americans such as poverty, unemployment, and house foreclosure.
Income Inequality matters because where there is high inequality there is poverty and poor health. This intersection is multi-faceted and exceedingly complex. For further discussion, read my next post!