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New evidence of the terrible social and personal costs of excessive income inequality

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Cross cultural evidence that excessive income inequality increases rates of death & sickness, infant mortality, imprisonment, mental illness, child abuse, teenage births, failure at school, family breakup and drug abuse

It has recently become possible to compare the scale of income differences in different societies and see how the social fabric of any given society is affected by how much inequality there is. Research using this data carried out since the early 1990s shows that many of the most pressing health and social problems are worse -- sometimes much worse -- in those societies that suffer the greatest inequality. Simply stated, those societies with the biggest income differences between rich and poor suffer a much larger range of health and social problems. The web pages that are found at the link below outline the latest evidence and tell you where to find more detailed summaries and research reports. A straight forward outline of all the material can be found in a book written by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, called The Spirit Level, published by Penguin, available at Amazon and any good book store.

Health, homicides and beyond

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A review of 168 studies summarizes the evidence internationally among rich and poor countries as well as for regions, states, and cities within many different countries. The tendency for more unequal societies to have worse health has been found for many different health indicators, including age-specific death rates, infant mortality, life expectancy, and illness.

More recently we have found that the same pattern applies to most of the social problems which, within countries, tend to be concentrated in the most deprived areas, and become more common further down the social ladder. Like violence and ill health, they are all much more common in more unequal societies. So far the evidence covers mental illness, drug abuse, teenage births, obesity, the proportion of the population in prison, educational performance of school children, levels of trust and strength of community life, and social mobility.

Some of these relationships with inequality have been demonstrated many times in peer reviewed research publications. Almost all have been shown in at least two different tests beds: internationally among a group of the richest countries, and independently among the 50 states of the USA. We should emphasize that when we talk about the effects of inequality, we do not necessarily mean the effects of poverty or low average incomes.

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Big differences, everyone affected

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Several years after receiving my M.A. in social science (interdisciplinary studies) I was an instructor at S.F. State University for a year, but then went back to designing automated machinery, and then tech writing, in Silicon Valley. I've (more...)

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