Because more equal societies work better for everyone

Income Inequality and Social Dysfunction

By Richard G Wilkinson and Kate E Pickett


Population health tends to be better in societies where income is more equally distributed. Recent evidence suggests that many other socialproblems, including mental illness, violence, imprisonment, lack oftrust, teenage births, obesity, drug abuse, and poor educational performance of schoolchildren, are also more common in more unequalsocieties. Differences in the prevalence of ill health and social problemsbetween more and less equal societies seem to be large and to extendto the vast majority of the population. Rather than referencing all the literature, this paper attempts to show which interpretations of these relationships are consistent with the research evidence. After discussing their more important and illuminating characteristics, we conclude that these relationships are likely to reflect a sensitivity of health and social problems to the scale of social stratification and status competition, underpinned by societal differences in material inequality


Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2009. 35:493–511
First published online as a Review in Advance on April 6, 2009

social-dysfunction.pdf745.88 KB
July 2012

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