What’s it all about?
More equal societies are healthier and happier. Richard Wilkinson charts data (16 minute video below) during a lecture in Edinburgh Scotland July 2011 based on the book, The Spirit Level, he co-authored.
British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s book (The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone 2nd edition, 2010) can be purchased widely or just log on to Amazon to buy or try a sample. It’s also available for Kindle users.
Read the Mood of Nation report to see how inequality affects New Zealand.
In rich societies the poor have shorter lives and suffer from almost every social problem. A common factor links the healthiest and happiest societies: the level of equality among individuals. Unequal societies are bad for everyone within them – the rich and struggling classes as well as the poor.
Data assembled in The Spirit Level exposes differences among the nations of the first world and within America’s fifty states as well. Most modern social problems – poor health, violence, lack of community life, teen pregnancy, and mental illness – are more likely to occur in less-equal societies.
Researchers Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett lay bare the contradictions between material success and social failure in the developed world. They also offer a way toward a new political outlook, shifting from self-interested consumerism to a friendlier, more equal and sustainable society. (Amazon) Wilkinson and Pickett’s research points to the “pernicious effects that inequality has on societies: eroding trust, increasing anxiety and illness, (and) encouraging excessive consumption”.
There is also more information on the Equality Trust’s website.
The humorous side of a serious matter
- The Spirit Level (puppet show)
- Today’s Inequality Report (by a weather forecaster)
- Gated non-communities (classic)
Why must New Zealanders take action?
The latest Mood of the Nation report (not online yet) by UMR Research shows immense public concern about New Zealand’s widened income gaps.
Journalist Max Rashbrooke reports (18 February 2014) the key findings as follows:
Fully half the country is “very concerned” about inequality, with a further 37% “somewhat concerned”; just 13% say they are not concerned about it.
72% of New Zealanders do not think we are an egalitarian country anymore.
71% of New Zealanders think inequality is widening (even if the data for 2008-12 shows it relatively steady).
78% think our increase in inequality has been bad for the country; just 2% think it has been good.
This ties in with other polling, from Roy Morgan, showing that inequality has leapt into the public consciousness in the last couple of years, and is, alongside poverty and imbalances of wealth, the biggest issue in people’s mind.
Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis
The most comprehensive work on inequality in New Zealand to date is Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis, published in June 2013 by Bridget Williams Books (BWB), and edited by Max Rashbrooke. The book’s chapters are written by some of New Zealand’s leading academics and commentators, and exposes the country’s widened income gaps. It brings inequality home with real-life stories of New Zealanders from business owners to beneficiaries.
According to Paul Barber (Policy Quarterly, Volume 7, Issue 4, November 2011, p68) New Zealand has gone from being one of the most equal of the developed or wealthy countries to one of the least over the last two decades. This is mostly due to large rises in overall income for the top twenty percent while the bottom twenty percent have seen a slight reduction in their disposable incomes.
As a consequence, New Zealand’s social problems have been exacerbated. We have some of the highest rates of incarceration, mental illness, obesity, infectious diseases, and teenage pregnancies when compared with other developed countries. In addition, we have poor figures around infant mortality, environmental sustainability, and life expectancy. There is also an increasing divide between our top educational performers and our bottom twenty percent. New Zealand thus fits the pattern where high levels of inequality go hand in hand with worsening social problems.
What is likely to happen if we reduce inequality in New Zealand? According to research a reduction in inequality of incomes has tangible effects on social outcomes. These include desirable benefits like:
- Fewer people in prison
- Fewer babies dying each year in their first year of life (currently over 300 per year)
- Life expectancy increased by one to three years for those living in New Zealand
- Fewer obese people, which means fewer cases of diabetes and heart disease
- Fewer teenage pregnancies meaning fewer abortions, and fewer children and young mothers struggling with the social problems associated with teenage motherhood
- Reduced levels of depression and other mental illnesses
- Fewer teenagers taking their own lives
- Fewer children and young people killed or crippled every year in this country as a result of infectious diseases such as meningococcal disease (which killed more than two hundred people during 1991-2007)
- Fewer 15 year-olds with low reading and maths literacy
- Doubling the rate at which we recycle waste.
(Policy Quarterly, Volume 7, Issue 4, November 2011, p68)
Written by Ben Hoffman