America's growing wealth gap isn't just an economic problem. It's a public health problem, too.
Growing income inequality in the United States has Americans talking about justice and economic fairness, but a new study suggests the burgeoning wealth gap is threatening more than just our pocketbooks. It might be raising our risk for an early death.
In one of the few studies to track the health effects of income inequality over time, one Ohio State University (OSU) researcher has discovered that an increase in inequality leads mortality rates to begin rising after five years. Inequality-linked mortality peaks about two years later, before tapering off five years after that. All told, even a modest increase in American societal inequality more than doubles an average individual's cumulative risk of death over the next 12 years.
Drawing data from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey for the years 1986 to 2004, the study found that for every 0.01 increase in the Gini coefficient -- a standard measure of a country's economic disparity where 0 represents perfect societal equality and 1 represents maximum inequality -- an average person's cumulative risk of death increased by 112 percent in the next dozen years. Hui Zheng, the OSU sociologist who ran the study, replicated the results using three different measures of inequality across a sample of more than 700,000 Americans aged 30 and older. He then ran the same test on 18- to 25-year-olds, with similar results.