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Social Epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson Addresses Links between Wealth and Health

October 6, 2011

On Thursday, October 6, British researcher Richard G. Wilkinson spoke in deWitt Hall about the alarming effect of social inequalities on societies around the world. Best known for his 2009 book (with Kate Pickett) The Spirit Level, Wilkinson's talk focused on the relationship between social inequality and societal problems, particularly health care.

Wilkinson discussed what he called an "extraordinary range of social problems" caused by inequality, and how these social problems vary between countries. Among these social problems are: a rise in poor mental health, self harm, infant mortality and violence.

His research shows that countries with a larger gap between the richest and poorest have more social problems, while the countries with a smaller gap enjoy a better quality of life overall.

"We have to have a better understanding of the huge health differences [between the rich and poor,]" Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson pointed out that there are few wide-range societal benefits from the top tier in society becoming richer, and in the United States, its citizens have a poor understanding of where it ranks among other nations in wealth distribution.

He added that although the U.S. is one of the richest nations in the world and enjoys comfort and luxury, the gap between the rich and poor is also one of the greatest in the world. This gap contributes to the U.S. having one of the shortest life expectancies, although it spends twice as much on health care as many other nations, Wilkinson said.

In his talk, Wilkinson also stated that the U.S. has much less social mobility than other nations.

"If one wants to live the "American Dream" they should consider moving to a more equal society. Almost everyone does better in a more equal society," he said.

According to Wilkinson, to lessen these gaps nations must "extend democracy into the income atmosphere." All social problems can be attributed to social inequality, he added.

Wilkinson is Professor Emeritus of social epidemiology at the University of Nottingham as well as Honorary Professor at University College London. He retired as a professor of social epidemiology at the University of Nottingham in 2008.

In 2009 he co-founded The Equality Trust, which seeks to show the benefits of a more equal society and campaigns for greater income equality.

-Amanda Comeau


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