Does capitalist inequality increase mortality?
According to a new study by Hui Zheng, published in Social Science & Medicine (paywall), a 0.01 rise in the Gini coefficient increases the cumulative odds of death by 122 percent in the following 12 years. The marginal effect peaks in year 7 and continues to exist through year 12.
Zheng does not study the specific links between income inequality and health but, based on other studies, he lists some possible mechanisms: income inequality may erode social cohesion and social capital, reduce investment in human capital and public goods, amplify relative deprivation and subsequent harmful psychosocial stress, and transfer some stress from the deprived to the better off, leading to poorer health across the population.
Zheng’s conclusion is unambiguous: while the death rate for U.S. adults 18 years and older declined from 1986 to 2006 and life expectancy at birth increased during the same period,
increasing income inequality in the past three decades suppresses the overall improving health trend. We might have seen an even higher extent of improvement on health if income inequality had remained at a relatively low level.
In other words, capitalism kills, with a lag.