NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Taking Issue With Health And Income Studies

October 28, 1999

Sometime ago, epidemiologist Michael Marmot published what have come to be known as the Whitehall Studies, which looked at the health of British civil servants. The research was widely discussed and highly influential.

In effect, he found that lower-ranked civil servants had far more health problems than those in higher ranks. The conclusion was drawn that rank -- or relative position -- affects people's health. This resulted in political calls for more income equality.

But a new study by Jennifer Mellor, at the College of William and Mary, and Jeffrey Milyo, an economist at Tufts University, casts doubts on this theory.

  • After controlling for varying factors, they found that equality didn't determine health, but rather that both are linked to a third factor -- individual income.
  • Areas with high individual income are areas with high income equality and health.
  • "There is no consistent evidence," they concluded, "that income inequality has important psycho-social consequences which influence individual health."
  • Thus, income equality may be desirable, but not because it makes people healthier.

Source: Macroscope, "The Sickly Poor," Investor's Business Daily, October 28, 1999.


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