The Public Interest

Health, inequality, and the scholars

Nicholas Eberstadt & Sally L. Satel

Fall 2004

FEW would take exception to the idea that an improvement in the material well-being of the poor would enhance not only their living standard but their health levels as well. A number of influential recent studies, however, purport to show that inequality in income— not poverty per se—has detrimental health consequences. This “inequality hypothesis” is meant to apply to everyone, regardless of wealth or social standing, and predicts that the risk of illness depends upon whether one lives in a society that is stratified or egalitarian. Thus, according to this hypothesis, while the poor may suffer the most from inequality, the better off and even the rich suffer as well.

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