Health, Inequality, and Economic Development

Angus Deaton

NBER Working Paper No. 8318
Issued in June 2001
NBER Program(s):   AG   CH   HC

I explore the connection between income inequality and health in both poor and rich countries. I discuss a range of mechanisms, including nonlinear income effects, credit restrictions, nutritional traps, public goods provision, and relative deprivation. I review the evidence on the effects of income inequality on the rate of decline of mortality over time, on geographical pattens of mortality, and on individual-level mortality. Much of the literature needs to be treated skeptically, if only because of the low quality of much of the data on income inequality. Although there are many puzzles that remain, I conclude that there is no direct link from income inequality to ill-health; individuals are no more likely to die if they live in more unequal places. The raw correlations that are sometimes found are likely the result of factors other than income inequality, some of which are intimately linked to broader notions of inequality and unfairness. That income inequality itself is not a health risk does not deny the importance for health of other inequalities, nor of the social environment. Whether income redistribution can improve population health does not depend on a direct effect of income inequality and remains an open question.

download in pdf format
   (250 K)

email paper

The NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health provides summaries of publications like this.  You can sign up to receive the NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health by email.

This paper is available as PDF (250 K) or via email.

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w8318

Published: Angus Deaton, 2003. "Health, Inequality, and Economic Development," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 41(1), pages 113-158, March. citation courtesy of

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded these:
Deaton w12735 Global Patterns of Income and Health: Facts, Interpretations, and Policies
Currie w13987 Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Socioeconomic Status, Poor Health in Childhood, and Human Capital Development
Acemoglu and Johnson w12269 Disease and Development: The Effect of Life Expectancy on Economic Growth
Cutler and Lleras-Muney w12352 Education and Health: Evaluating Theories and Evidence
Weil w11455 Accounting for the Effect of Health on Economic Growth
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us