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Rising income inequality associated with increasing mortality new study finds

Between 1975 and 2006 life expectancy has continued to rise and mortality rates continued to fall in rich countries, but not as much as they would have done if income had been more evenly distributed, a new study has found.

The research published this month by Population Studies, a journal based at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), finds that while life expectancy rose and mortality rates fell during this 30-year period, the distribution of incomes became more unequal in two-thirds of the world's rich countries. This growing inequality was associated with lower life expectancy and higher mortality, especially among men.

In the UK, income inequality increased by 43 per cent between 1975 and 2006. Without this increase, mortality for children and adults under the age of 50 could now be 10 per cent lower the researchers estimate. This figure was obtained by applying to the UK the average effects of income inequality on mortality over a 30-year period, 1975-2006, in 21 developed countries.

Roberta Torre, working at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research at the time, and Professor Mikko Myrskylä, now at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), also found that increasing income inequality is associated with mortality at older ages (65-89 years), however, this association is significant only for women and is less strong than that for ages below 50.

Professor Mikko Myrskylä, Professor of Demography in LSE’s Department of Social Policy, 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. Our findings suggest that policies to decrease income inequality may improve health, especially that of children and young to middle aged men and women.”

Roberta Torre said: “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. 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.”

‘Income inequality and population health: An analysis of panel data for 21 developed countries, 1975-2006’ by Roberta Torre and Mikko Myrskylä is published in this month’s issue of Population Studies.

Ends

Further information
For copies of the paper: Anne Shepherd, Population Studies pic@lse.ac.uk| Telephone: 020 7955 7666
Professor Mikko Myrskylä: email M.Myrskyla@lse.ac.uk|, Telephone 020 7955 6646

Notes for editors:

Both researchers were at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research at the time the research was conducted. Roberta Torre is now at the European Commission. Professor Mikko Myrskylä is Professor of Demography at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

The researchers used data from the Human Mortality Database (HMD), which provides internationally comparable data on mortality for national populations over long periods of time, assessing life expectancy at birth and age-specific mortality rates.

Population Studies: a journal of demography is owned and produced by the Population Investigation Committee, based at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

16 January 2014

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