Newspaper logo  
 
 
Local News & Opinion

Ref. : Civic Events

Ref. : Arts & Education Events

Ref. : Public Service Notices

Travel
Books, Films, Arts & Education

09.22 For-Profit Colleges as Factories of Debt

09.21 ‘Poor people don’t plan long-term. We’ll just get our hearts broken’

09.19 Texas proposes rewriting school text books to deny manmade climate change

Letters
Open Letters:

Ref. : Letters to the editor

Health Care & Environment

09.22 Bottom-Up Climate Fix

09.22 Rockefellers, Heirs to an Oil Fortune, Will Divest Charity From Fossil Fuels

09.22 Climate change marches: Kerry cites fight against Ebola and Isis as thousands join protests

09.22 De Blasio Orders a Greener City, Setting Goals for Energy Efficiency of Buildings

09.21 After Surgery, Surprise $117,000 Medical Bill From Doctor He Didn’t Know

09.21 Climate warning to world leaders: stick to 2C limit or face 'mayhem'

09.21 Desmond Tutu: We fought apartheid. Now climate change is our global enemy

09.21 Thousands join People's Climate March around the world – live

09.21 Climate change is a global emergency. Stop waiting for politicians to sound the alarm

09.21 US will not commit to climate change aid for poor nations at UN summit

09.20 Climate Change: The Next Generation [25:26 video]

09.20 These Stunning Photos of Greenland's "Dark Snow" Should Worry You

09.20 Artificial Sweeteners May Disrupt Body’s Blood Sugar Controls

09.19 Texas proposes rewriting school text books to deny manmade climate change

09.19 Jarvis Cocker: Do I Really Have to March?

News Media

09.19 How the Media Gets It Wrong

09.18 At Elite Media, ‘Scientific’ Racists Fit in Fine

Daily FAIR Blog
The Daily Howler

Justice Matters

09.20 Financial Criminals Have Been Fined Billions, but They Rarely Pay

09.20 Science’s Sexual Assault Problem

US Politics, Policy & Culture

09.22 How the GOP stopped caring about you

09.21 Spatial Justice: Rasquachification, Race and the City

09.20 "Washington Is a Cesspool of Faux-Experts Who Do Bad Research"

09.20 Does Hillary Clinton Have Anything to Say?

09.19 Police Have a Much Bigger Domestic Abuse Problem Than the NFL

09.19 Chris Christie lies yet again. Tells press conference that Sirota was fired by Pando over inaccuracies

High Crimes?
Economics, Crony Capitalism

09.20 5 Signs the Dark-Money Apocalypse Is Upon Us

09.20 Climate Change Is an Opportunity to Dramatically Reinvent the Economy

09.18 Bill Black: The New York Times’ Coverage of EU Austerity Remains Pathetic

09.18 The Deficit Disaster That Never Was [charts]

09.18 Hey, FCC: do your job and stand up for net neutrality, not Big Cable schemes

International

09.22 Fleeing ISIS, 130,000 Syrians Have Entered Turkey in Just Four Days

09.22 How Sugar Daddies Are Financing College Education

09.22 What Happens When We All Live to 100?

09.22 Why I Hope to Die at 75

09.22 In a Mattress, a Fulcrum of Art and Political Protest

09.22 Syrian Kurdish fighters halt Islamic State advance near Kobani

09.21 Germany's Ailing Infrastructure: A Nation Slowly Crumbles

09.21 Mikhail Khodorkovsky breaks political silence, saying he would lead Russia

09.21 Kurds call on 'all Middle East' to help defend stronghold from Isis

09.19 How Malawi Women Are Turning Waste Into Wealth

09.19 5 Key Themes Emerging From the 'New Science of Cities'

09.19 The rapid pace of technology is hollowing out the middle class

09.19 Scotland votes no: the union has survived, but the questions for the left are profound

We are a non-profit Internet-only newspaper publication founded in 1973. Your donation is essential to our survival.

You can also mail a check to:
Baltimore News Network, Inc.
P.O. Box 42581
Baltimore, MD 21284-2581
Google
This site Web
  How Inequality Kills

COMMENTARY:

How Inequality Kills

by Julian Edney
Digging through piles of data, John Lynch and his co-workers analyzed 282 US cities. They found if you add the ravages of poverty to the life-shortening effect of social inequality, the combination is “comparable to the combined loss of life from lung cancer, diabetes, motor vehicle crashes, HIV infections, suicides and homicides.”
Most of us don’t read the scientific health journals, so we’ve missed this news. Research has appeared in the United States and Britain, over the last ten years, saying more than any physical cause of death like cigarettes, obesity, accidents, alcohol or pollution, a more potent killer is the shape of the society we live in.

Most of this comes from epidemiologists and public health researchers. The articles, dry and overlooked, are gray with columns of statistics. The earliest ones, buried in the stacks at the university, show these scientists hardly believing their own findings. It was only because George Kaplan (1) and John Lynch (2) and their associates at the University of Michigan, for example, and Richard Wilkinson (3) at the University of Sussex all made discoveries pointing in the same odd direction that this topic wasn’t dismissed as a quirk.

We’ve always known poverty is correlated with poor health. But separately, if you measure the inequality of any society—its shape, hierarchical or egalitarian—and if you correlate that with infant mortality, or death from violence, or life expectancy, the correlation number jumps off the page.

Now a whole book of collected reports has been published, showing the same patterns (4). Whether researchers compare different countries, different cities or different states, steeply unequal societies show more breakdown. Violence is up, health is down, infant mortality is up, life expectancy is shorter—and this affects all levels of society. Egalitarian societies are simply healthier.

This is a raw point at the joint between science and politics. It is going ignored. Of course this is not the first time the media have ignored inconvenient facts from health statisticians. The discovery of real hunger in America, quietly admitted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture last year (5), should have lit up the political skies, but was skipped by the press. A very readable article by Robert Sapolsky in the glossy pages of the Scientific American last year (6) should likewise have liberal politicians climbing on the tables, because his article shows that social inequality kills. It is being virtually ignored.

We dismiss this research at our peril.

Look at any community, and its rich and its poor. If you figure how much money you’d have to take from the rich to give to the poor, and keep doing that until everybody was equal, that would be the community’s score on the Robin Hood Index (7, 8), an economic measure of social inequality. Bruce Kennedy and his colleagues (9) did that for each of the 50 states in America. (Turns out the states vary considerably, with Louisiana the most unequal, New Hampshire the most equal.) Next they compared the index with mortality rates. A clear correlation jumped out. By knowing the state’s degree of social inequality, you could accurately guess its mortality rate.

Inequality kills.

The impact of inequality ripples through behavioral and criminology data too. It seems nobody tried these correlations before.

And it’s powerful. Digging through piles of data, John Lynch and his co-workers analyzed 282 US cities. They found if you add the ravages of poverty to the life-shortening effect of social inequality, the combination is “comparable to the combined loss of life from lung cancer, diabetes, motor vehicle crashes, HIV infections, suicides and homicides” (10). Is this a fact because sick people fall to the bottom of society, causing deeper inequality? No; analysis shows the reverse. The path is from inequality to bad health.

Those are the health effects, but the impact of inequality ripples through behavioral and criminology data too. It seems nobody tried these correlations before.

In one study, income inequality correlated with all of the following: low birth weight, homicide, violent crime, work disability, expenditures for medical care and police protection, rates of smoking, unemployment rates, food stamps, and imprisonment.

In a third study, George Kaplan and his associates went through the archives and found income inequality correlated with all of the following: low birth weight, homicide, violent crime, work disability, expenditures for medical care and police protection, rates of smoking, unemployment rates, food stamps, and imprisonment (11). When Ching-Chi Hsieh and M.D. Pugh, both sociologists, sifted through 34 published research studies and conducted a meta-analysis, they found 97% of the correlations reported between social inequality and violent crime were positive (12).

Exactly why is inequality toxic? They’re still working on this one, but it looks like friendships and social networks are critical in getting through stressful times. Chronic stress can damage the circulation system, cause hormone imbalances, damage the immune system and affect the brain in ways that precipitate depression—this is true for both animals and humans. Some stresses are psychological, some interpersonal. In humans, hierarchy makes friendships difficult. We can think of friendship and hierarchy as inversely related. Egalitarian networks promote camaraderie and trust, but if it is constantly pushed in our faces that we are unequals, we feel more untrusting, alone, and vulnerable.

Among some animals, it appears the accumulating stresses of the pecking order are toxic. Researchers are saying the effects are akin to rapid ageing (13).

For humans, it’s not your actual dollar income, but the experience of feeling low on the community ladder that is tied to poor health. Regardless of the nation we live in, we compare ourselves to others around us. If we feel lower, inferior, it’s stressful.

One more new point. For humans, it’s not your actual dollar income, but the experience of feeling low on the community ladder that is tied to poor health. Regardless of the nation we live in, we compare ourselves to others around us. If we feel lower, inferior, it’s stressful. So for example, people living in Greece today earn about half what Americans earn, but their life expectancy is longer. America has very steep inequalities but Greece is a more egalitarian society (14).

All this points to one conclusion. Raising a nation’s total wealth is not going to improve average health unless inequality is also reduced (15).


Julian Edney teaches college and may be reached at julianedney@aol.com.

Notes:

1. Kaplan, G.A., E.R. Pamuck, J.W. Lynch, R.D. Cohen and J.L. Balfour, "Inequality in income and mortality in the United States: analysis of mortality and potential pathways." British Medical Journal 1996, 312, 999-1003.

2. Lynch, J.W., G.A. Kaplan, E.R. Pamuk, R.D.Cohen, K.E. Heck, J.L. Balfour, and I.H. Yen, "Income inequality and mortality in metropolitan areas of the United States. American Journal of Public Health 1998, 88, 1074-1080.

3. Wilkinson, R. Mind the gap. London: Widenfeld & Nicholson. 2000.

4. Kawachi, I., B.P. Kennedy and R.C.Wilkinson, The society and population health reader. New York: The New Press, 1999.

5. Nord, M., Andrtews, M., Carlson, S. Household Food Security in the United States, 2004. United States Department of Agriculture report ERS-ERR-11, October 2005.

6. Sapolsky, R. "Sick of poverty." Scientific American, 2005, 293, 92-99.

7. Atkinson, A.B. and Micklewright, J. Economic transformation in eastern Europe and the distribution of income. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

8. Kennedy, B.P., I. Kawachi, and D. Prothrow-Stith, "Income distribution and mortality: cross-sectional ecological study of the Robin Hood Index in the United States." British Medical Journal, 1996, 312, 1004-1007.

9. Ibid.

10. Lynch, J.W., G.A. Kaplan, E.R. Pamuk, R.D. Cohen, K.E. Heck, J.L. Balfour, and I.H. Yen, "Income inequality and mortality in metropolitan areas of the United States." American Journal of Public Health 1998, 88, 1074-1080.

11. Kaplan, G.A., E.R. Pamuck, J.W. Lynch, R.D. Cohen and J.L. Balfour, "Inequality in income and mortality in the United States: analysis of mortality and potential pathways." British Medical Journal 1996, 312, 999-1003.

12. Hseih, C-C., and M.D. Pugh. "Poverty, Income inequality and violent crime: a meta-analysis of recent aggregate data studies." Criminal Justice Review, 1993, 18, 182-202.

13. Wilkinson, R. Mind the gap. London: Widenfeld & Nicholson. 2000., p. 37.

14. Sapolsky, R. "Sick of poverty." Scientific American, 2005, 293, 92-99., p. 98.

15. Fiscella, K. and P. Franks. "Poverty or income inequality as a predictor of mortality: longitudinal cohort study." British Medical Journal, 1997, 314, 1724-1728.


Read more:


Copyright © 2006 The Baltimore Chronicle. All rights reserved.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on March 30, 2006.

 


Public Service Ads: