Inequality impacts: the income gradient in mortality – shape, social patterning, and trends

PI: Johan Fritzell,
This research program rests on two facts. First, the relationship between income and health is nonlinear. Typically, up to a certain point, higher incomes yield positive health returns. Thereafter, however, the positive health returns of higher incomes begin to diminish. Widening income inequality can thus be expected to negatively affect the health of people at the lower end of the income spectrum while failing to provide large positive benefits to those at the higher end. Second, and inauspiciously, over the past few decades, the distribution of income in most Western countries—including the Nordic countries—has grown increasingly unequal.

In this project, we study the relationship between income and mortality from the macro (large-scale/international) and from the micro (household/individual) perspective. The project is divided into three interrelated subprojects. First, we will analyze the macro association between income inequality, and poverty, and mortality rates from 1980 to the present in approximately 25 countries for which comparable data are available. The overall research question is whether relative and/or absolute inequality and poverty have a bearing on the risk of dying in richer countries today. This question has obvious implications for the consequences of growing income inequality in the Nordic countries. The second subproject relies on micro-level data in routinely kept Nordic registers that cover or nearly cover total national populations. These data will be used to scrutinize the shape of the income-mortality association, focusing on how it has changed over time. The findings of this subproject will be critical to understanding the consequences of increasing inequality. Our third sub-project aims to study mortality risks in migrants and people excluded from the labor market in more detail.

Project activities also include researcher training, and research exchange, and conferences. The project is funded by the Joint Committee for Nordic Research Councils for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NOS-HS). Partner organizations are NOVA, a social research institute that is part of the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Science and Centre for Welfare and Labour Research; the University of Helsinki; the University of Copenhagen; KELA, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland; and Stockholm University.