When Inequality Kills


Joseph Stiglitz in Project Syndicate:

France, for example, spends less than 12% of its GDP on medical care, compared to 17% in the US. Yet Americans can expect to live three full years less than the French.

For years, many Americans explained away this gap. The US is a more heterogeneous society, they argued, and the gap supposedly reflected the huge difference in average life expectancy between African Americans and white Americans.

The racial gap in health is, of course, all too real. According to a study published in 2014, life expectancy for African Americans is some four years lower for women and more than five years lower for men, relative to whites. This disparity, however, is hardly just an innocuous result of a more heterogeneous society. It is a symptom of America’s disgrace: pervasive discrimination against African Americans, reflected in median household income that is less than 60% that of white households. The effects of lower income are exacerbated by the fact that the US is the only advanced country not to recognize access to health care as a basic right.

Some white Americans, however, have attempted to shift the blame for dying younger to African Americans themselves, citing their “lifestyles.” It is perhaps true that unhealthy habits are more concentrated among poor Americans, a disproportionate number of whom are black. But these habits themselves are a consequence of economic conditions, not to mention the stresses of racism.

The Case-Deaton results show that such theories will no longer do. America is becoming a more divided society – divided not only between whites and African Americans, but also between the 1% and the rest, and between the highly educated and the less educated, regardless of race. And the gap can now be measured not just in wages, but also in early deaths. White Americans, too, are dying earlier as their incomes decline.

More here.