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  • Samin Sabah Islam

How Economic Inequality Harms Societies

Since the Great Divergence, starting in the 1970s, income inequality has soared within and between countries. In his Ted Talk, author and political activist Richard Wilkinson explores the socio-economic phenomenon that worsens when rich and poor are too far apart.

In this talk Richard Wilkinson discusses the patterns of relationship between socio-economic problems and income inequality, and suggests what could be done to avoid them. He displays a scatter plot to demonstrate that there is no correlation found between life expectancy and Gross National income (GNP) per head across several countries. However, another diagram shows that when local neighbourhoods of England and Wales are compared, a clear relationship between the rich living longer and the poor having a shorter life expectancy can be noticed. Wilkinson explains this paradox by stating that within small communities, we focus on relative income and social statuses. He further shows multiple graphs that show no correlation between Gross National Income per head and socio-economic concerns including child well-being, homicide, trust level, mental illness and infant mortality. However, when compared with income inequality, all those problems worsen in countries with a large income gap. Wilkinson further explains that regardless of having a high income gap, some countries employ measures to lower it. For example, Sweden has a large difference in earnings, and so it lowers that gap through taxation.

Furthermore, Wilkinson goes on to explain that not just the poor, but the rich too are affected by this income inequality. These are certain psycho-social effects of inequality. Inequality is proved to result in status insecurity, threats to self-esteem and fear of negative judgement among other things. A study further proved that tasks that include social evaluative threats are mostly responsible for increasing levels of cortisol, the central stress hormone. Wilkinson ends the talk by suggesting making tax progressive, increasing company democracy, ending tax havens etc. as a way to reduce this inequality and the impacts that comes with it.

Link to Ted Talk:

Richard Gerald Wilkinson is social epidemiologist, author, advocate, and left-wing political activist. He is Professor Emeritus of social epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, having retired in 2008.

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