Health, Inequality, and Economic Development

77 Pages Posted: 7 Jun 2001 Last revised: 26 Mar 2021

See all articles by Angus Deaton

Angus Deaton

Princeton University; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: June 2001


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.

Suggested Citation

Deaton, Angus S., Health, Inequality, and Economic Development (June 2001). NBER Working Paper No. w8318, Available at SSRN:

Angus S. Deaton (Contact Author)

Princeton University ( email )

Woodrow Wilson School
Princeton, NJ 08544
United States
609-258-5967 (Phone)
609-258-5974 (Fax)


National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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