Daily Video

September 29, 2011

The Health Consequences of Inequality

When recession hit the U.S., many people who were once at the top of the economic ladder, with secure, well-paying jobs, lost those jobs and found themselves with an entirely different societal status. For many, striving to stay at the top of society is extremely stressful and can have negative health effects.

Denise Barrant, a former manager who was laid off in 2008, has felt the health effects of sudden poverty and the constant, unsuccessful search for work. She was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and was hospitalized with extreme high blood pressure.

Some economists think there’s a link between America’s economically unequal society and its health problems.

“Societies with bigger income differences between rich and poor do worse on a whole range of measures. They have worse health. They have more violence. They have more drug problems. Standards of child well-being are worse,” says Richard Wilkinson, a British epidemiologist who wrote a book about the links between economics and health.

But, economic disparity has interesting advantages when it comes to work ethic: those who experience having little and wanting more are often fueled to work harder as a result.


“Imagine two people, you know, one is working hard and one is just lazy and goofing off. And suppose both get the same thing down the road. I mean, wouldn’t the hardworking person say, why am I doing that? So inequality motivates people to be inventive, to work hard, to pursue a career, to pursue an education.” – Harald Uhlig, University of Chicago

“Money becomes more important because it says what you’re worth. So people in more unequal societies work longer hours, much longer hours, are more likely to get into debt. They save less of their income. They spend more — and all those issues to do with how you express what you’re worth and the status insecurities, and so on.” – Richard Wilkinson, author of “The Spirit Level”

Warm Up Questions

1. What does the term ‘inequality’ mean to you? Do you think it’s a good or a bad thing?

2. What are the health effects of stress? Why do people experience stress?

3. What happened as a result of the 2008 economic recession in the U.S.?

Discussion Questions

1. What were you most surprised by in this video? Why?

2. Based on what you saw in this video, is it better to have an economically equal society or an economically unequal one? Why?

3. What motivates you to work hard?

Additional Resources

Video Transcript

Income Inequality Fuels Borrowing Cycle

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