A new study by the London School of Economics and Social Policy (LSE) has found that life expectancy has risen and mortality rates fallen - but not as much as they would have had incomes been more equally distributed.
Researchers estimate that the mortality rate for children and adults would be 10 % lower if incomes had been more fairly distributed within society.
Published in the journal Population Studies, the paper found that life expectancy has risen and mortality rates fallen in the last 30 years. At the same time, however, the distribution of income had grown more unequal - the gap between the rich and poor widened significantly in two-thirds of the world's richest countries.
The inequality of the widening income gap was linked with lower life expectancy and higher mortality, especially among men.
In the UK, income inequality had increased by 43% since 1975. Researchers estimate that mortality rates for children and adults could be 10 % lower without such an income gap. This figure was obtained by analysing the average effects of income inequality on mortality over a 30-year period in 21 developed countries, and then applying it to the data for the UK.
LSE's Professor Mikko Myrskylä of Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research commented on the impact of income inequality and the likelihood of it having an effect on life expectancy.
He said: “These results shed new light on how income inequality effects mortality rates and suggest that increasing income inequality is associated with decreased life expectancy for both men and women."
The findings of the study suggest that policies are needed to decrease income inequality which may improve health, especially the health of children and young to middle aged men and women.
Although not fully understood, there is a link between income inequality and increased mortality. The reasons that the researchers suggest are linked to the stress of modern life which effectively - finishes us off earlier than normal.
Researcher, Roberta Torre commented:
“The exact mechanism through which income inequality increases mortality is unclear, but may be related to increased competition between people, stress, and risk-taking behaviour in modern societies. The level of inequality may also affect the resources parents are able to devote to their children, and this may be part of the explanation for the relationship found between income inequality and the mortality of children."
The researchers urge for policies to support health and to reduce income inequality, not just for the sake of the individuals at the lower end, but also for society itself and the sustaining of an ageing society.
Roberta Torre added;
"Given the importance of the health of children and young adults for the productivity and sustainability of ageing societies, measures to reduce the growth of income inequality could have long-term benefits to society.”
Source: LSE. ‘Income inequality and population health: An analysis of panel data for 21 developed countries, 1975-2006’ For copies of the paper contact Anne Shepherd, Population Studies firstname.lastname@example.org