The Biology of Inequality

62 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2018 Last revised: 26 Jul 2018

See all articles by Lucy A. Jewel

Lucy A. Jewel

University of Tennessee College of Law

Date Written: June 10, 2018


We have known for quite some time that disadvantaged individuals suffer from poorer health outcomes and lower life spans than the advantaged. The disadvantaged do not perform as well on educational tests than their wealthier peers. In some situations, racial discrimination intersects with poverty to worsen these outcomes for minorities. With the notion that poverty becomes implanted in an individual’s genes and brain, science helps explain how these disparate lifespans and variations in cognitive outcomes come to be. This Article collectively refers to these scientific theories as embodied inequality. Embodied inequality explains why it is so difficult for individuals to escape the effects of socioeconomic disadvantage.

Rhetorically, embodied inequality challenges traditional narratives that assume that individual genes and individual behavioral choices are the primary causal agents for social outcomes. Individual action plays a role, but biologists and brain scientists now understand that the environment, along with one’s genes, pulls many of the strings toward particular social outcomes. While social-policy theorists have long advocated for government intervention to create a more robust social safety net and a more nurturing society, this Article is the first to apply these emerging scientific theories to these legal and policy issues.

Keywords: Law and Inequality, Law and Biology, Poverty, Social Welfare, Rhetoric, Interdisciplinary

Suggested Citation

Jewel, Lucille A., The Biology of Inequality (June 10, 2018). Denver University Law Review, Vol. 95, No. 3, 2018; University of Tennessee Legal Studies Research Paper No. 354. Available at SSRN:

Lucille A. Jewel (Contact Author)

University of Tennessee College of Law ( email )

1505 West Cumberland Avenue
Knoxville, TN 37996
United States

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