Global Patterns of Income and Health: Facts, Interpretations, and Policies
People in poor countries live shorter lives than people in rich countries so that, if we scale income by some index of health, there is more inequality in the world than if we consider income alone. Such international inequalities in life expectancy decreased for many years after 1945, and the strong correlation between income and life-expectancy might lead us to hope that economic growth will improve people's health as well as their material living conditions. I argue that the apparent convergence in life expectancies is not as beneficial as might appear, and that, while economic growth is the key to poverty reduction, there is no evidence that it will deliver automatic health improvements in the absence of appropriate conditions. The strong negative correlation between economic growth on the one hand and the proportionate rate of decline of infant and child mortality on the other vanishes altogether if we look at the relationship between growth and the absolute rate of decline in infant and child mortality. In effect, the correlation is between the level of infant mortality and the growth of real incomes, most likely reflecting the importance of factors such as education and the quality of institutions that affect both health and growth.
WIDER Annual Lecture, Helsinki, September 29th, 2006. I am grateful to John Broome, Anne Case, James Foster, Tony Shorrocks, Gopal Sreenivasan and Daniel Wikler for helpful discussions and comments during the preparation of this paper. I also acknowledge financial support from the Fogarty International Center and the National Institute on Aging through Grant No.R01 AG20275-01 to Princeton and Grant No. P01 AG05842-14 through the National Bureau of Economic Research. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.