Inequality Kills

Population health researchers, most famously and consistently Richard Wilkinson,  have long drawn attention to the fact that the link between social class and health status is a gradient, such that an individual’s position in the class hierarchy is directly and causally linked to that person’s health status. It is not just that low income people are more likely to be be in ill health and to die earlier than those higherup the income ladder; high income people are also healthier and live longer than those in the middle.  Lower health status reflects not just poverty and absolute deprivation,  but also the relative deprivation, stress and anxiety which arise from an inferior position in the social hierarchy.  (See Wilkinson’s The Impact of Inequality, New Press, 2005.)

A new Statistics Canada study puts solid new Canadian numbers behind the argument that inequality kills. They link income status in 1991 to mortality (deaths) between 1991 and 2001 and find that “compared with people of higher socio-economic status, mortality rates were elevated among those of lower socio-economic status, regardless of whether status was determined by education, occupation or income. The findings reveal a stair-stepped gradient, with bigger steps near the bottom of the socio-economic hierarchy.”

Some key numbers:

Canadians aged 25 and in the top fifth of the income distribution can expect to have 5.6 more years of life  than those in the bottom fifth, and 1.7 more years of life compared to those in the middle one fifth.  The gap between the top and bottom one fifth is 6.8 years for men, and 4.3 years for women.

Of Canadians aged 25, 78.1%  in the top one fifth can expect to survive to age 75, compared 61.0% in th bottom one fifth, and 72.7% in the middle one fifth.

Of Canadian men aged 25, just 50.6% in the bottom one fifth  can expect to  survive to age  75, compared to  72.4%  in the top one fifth .

One comment

  • It should be strikingly obvious to any thinking person that poverty causes an early demise (and a rather miserable and limited life in the meantime). I have yet to fully understand why so many people don’t get it. One of my favourite authors, Karen Kingsolver once said in an interview that the most damaging belief carried around in the heads of most North Americans (Canadians and Americans specifically), as well as western europeans, is that in a modern state, people get what they deserve. This belief is rarely questioned. In fact, it is rarely even brought out into the daylight and admitted….but it is there. Thus, if one is doing well financially, one is deserving of “success” (the market rewards “virtue”)and if not, well the poor have no one to blame but themselves. The assumption, of course, is that the system is fair. And rarely is that assumption questioned. Of course, there is nothing fair about it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *