Inequality and Health

Inequality, Geography, and Perceptions Inequality and Social Comparisons | Inequality, Politics, and Group Dynamics | Inequality and the Top-End | Inequality and the Workplace | Inequality and Health | Earlier Topics of Focus

Defining Themes

  • What do we know about how changes in levels of economic inequality shape health behaviors and outcomes? 
  • What research strategies could scholars employ to separate out the effects of exposure to relative economic inequality from the health consequences of lack of resources or low socioeconomic status itself? 

Specific Research Questions

  • What are the specific physiological pathways between inequality and adverse health outcomes? Which mechanisms or hypotheses linking inequality and health outcomes should be prioritized in future research?
    • For example, should researchers look to inequality’s possible effects on individuals’ propensities to take risks or to invest in their long-term health?
    • Does inequality affect neural development? Should researchers look to neurological pathways linking repeated exposure to stress and physiological outcomes?
    • Does inequality affect stress pathways that increase vulnerability to certain diseases? 
    • What laboratory experiments could help to establish external validity of these effects? 
  • What is the etiological (or gestation) period between exposure to inequality and observed health effects?
    • How might experiencing economic inequality at different stages of life result in differing health outcomes?
    • Might beliefs about economic mobility and one’s future economic prospects affect one’s likelihood to engage in risky health behaviors?
    • Might such outcomes vary in duration and acuteness? 
  • At what geographic scale are inequality’s impacts on health most salient?
    • If perceptions of status and well-being—and perhaps by extension, health behaviors—are a product of one’s day-to-day exposure to economic inequality, how should researchers understand the relationship between general and local inequality with respect to health outcomes?
    • Taking into account the disparities in availability and quality of healthcare, does economic segregation mediate some of the adverse health effects of inequality?
  • Is inequality more notable for its effects (if any) on average population health, or its effects on the differentials between individuals’ health?
  • Is there a causal relationship between high inequality and the decline in U.S. life expectancy relative to other G7 countries since the late 1980s?
  • Might high inequality at the top end of the income distribution change doctors’ practices (such as encouraging specialization in rare and highly expensive treatments) in ways that affect healthcare outcomes?