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The Spirit Level: Why Equality Is Better for Everyone

Richard Wilkinson, Co-founder of The Equality Trust

Date/Time: 2nd February 2012

Comparing life expectancy, mental health, levels of violence, teenage birth rates, drug abuse, child well-being, obesity rates, levels of trust, the educational performance of school children, or the strength of community life among rich countries, it is clear that those societies that tend to do well in one of these measures tend to do well on them all, and those that do badly, do badly on all of them. What accounts for the difference? The key is the amount of inequality in a society. The picture is consistent, whether we compare rich countries or the 50 states of the USA, the more unequal a society is, the more ill health and social problems it has.

Inequality has always been regarded as divisive and socially corrosive. The data shows that even a small difference in the level of inequality matters. Material inequality serves as a determinant of the scale and importance of social stratification. It increases status insecurity and competition and the prevalence of all the problems associated with relative deprivation. Particularly important are effects mediated by social status, friendship and early childhood experience. However, although the amount of inequality has its greatest effect on rates of problems among the less well off, its influence extends to almost all income groups: too much inequality reduces levels of well-being among the vast majority of the population.