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Soc Sci Med. 2004 Jan;58(1):41-56.

Beyond the income inequality hypothesis: class, neo-liberalism, and health inequalities.

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  • 1Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 1A8.


This paper describes and critiques the income inequality approach to health inequalities. It then presents an alternative class-based model through a focus on the causes and not only the consequences of income inequalities. In this model, the relationship between income inequality and health appears as a special case within a broader causal chain. It is argued that global and national socio-political-economic trends have increased the power of business classes and lowered that of working classes. The neo-liberal policies accompanying these trends led to increased income inequality but also poverty and unequal access to many other health-relevant resources. But international pressures towards neo-liberal doctrines and policies are differentially resisted by various nations because of historically embedded variation in class and institutional structures. Data presented indicates that neo-liberalism is associated with greater poverty and income inequalities, and greater health inequalities within nations. Furthermore, countries with Social Democratic forms of welfare regimes (i.e., those that are less neo-liberal) have better health than do those that are more neo-liberal. The paper concludes with discussion of what further steps are needed to "go beyond" the income inequality hypothesis towards consideration of a broader set of the social determinants of health.

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