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Rising income inequality linked to Americans’ declining health

11-May-2022 8:30 AM EDT, by Ohio State University

Newswise — COLUMBUS, Ohio – Rising levels of income inequality in the United States may be one reason that the health of Americans has been declining in recent decades, new research suggests.

The study found that the level of income inequality that Americans experienced as children was linked to adult markers of health such as chronic inflammation and lung function, as well as the risk of developing diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

And with levels of income inequality increasing since the 1940s, the overall health of Americans has begun to decline as they have aged, said Hui Zheng, lead author of the study and associate professor of sociology at The Ohio State University.

“Children growing up in a period of rising income inequality seem to be particularly influenced by its negative effects,” Zheng said.

“It has a long-term impact on their health as adults.”

The study was published online recently in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

The researchers analyzed data on Americans born between 1925 and 1999. They used two nationally representative datasets to examine health trends over time.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys 1988-2018 (NHANES) included 35,509 people and measured nine markers of health, including inflammation, lung function and kidney function.

In addition, they used the Panel Studies of Income Dynamics 1968-2013 (PSID), which included 12,924 adults, and measured 10 health problems, including stroke, heart disease, diabetes and chronic lung disease.

Researchers created a measure of childhood inequality for all the individuals in the study. It is based on what is called the Gini Index, which in this case used Internal Revenue Service data to summarize each year how income was dispersed among all Americans.

For every individual, the inequality measure was based on the national Gini Index score average between their birth and when they turned 18.

Overall, income inequality has been dramatically increasing since the mid-1940s when the first Baby Boomers were born, findings revealed.

And the results showed that this rise in inequality very closely mirrored adult declines in health in both of the datasets used, Zheng said.


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