Inequality and mortality: long-run evidence from a panel of countries

Social equality Australia

Andrew Leigh and Christopher Jencks investigate whether changes in economic inequality affect mortality in rich countries. To answer this question the authors use a new source of data on income inequality: tax data on the share of pretax income going to the richest 10 percent of the population in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the US between 1903 and 2003. Although this measure is not a good proxy for inequality within the bottom half of the income distribution, it is a good proxy for changes in the top half of the distribution and for the Gini coefficient. In the absence of country and year fixed effects, the income share of the top decile is negatively related to life expectancy and positively related to infant mortality. However, in their preferred fixed-effects specification these relationships are weak, statistically insignificant, and likely to change their sign. Nor does the data suggest that changes in the income share of the richest 10 percent affect homicide or suicide rates.

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