Punishing the poor, killing the poor: punitive political responses to economic decline deepen health inequalities in the United States

Elias Nosrati, Michael Ash, Michael Marmot, Martin McKee and Lawrence P King

Nosrati authors

Health inequalities are on the rise in the United States: the gap in life expectancy between those at the top and the bottom of the income spectrum has increased rapidly since the dawn of the century, to the point where the lives of the poor are cut short by up to a decade and a half compared with those of the wealthy. Moreover, while the rich tend to live longer everywhere, life expectancy among the poor varies significantly by geographical region.

In our article recently published in the IJE, we show that these patterns of health are the product of powerful political and economic forces. Over the past few decades, neoliberal politics, the decline of unions and economic globalisation have resulted in rapid industrial restructuring and economic dislocation in the US. Organised labour has been eroded in the industrial heartland, and manufacturing operations have been shifted to the non-unionised south and to foreign countries.

Continue reading “Punishing the poor, killing the poor: punitive political responses to economic decline deepen health inequalities in the United States”

Having more frequent social contact is associated with better cognitive performance

Andrew Sommerlad and Marko Elovainio

Sommerlad Elovainio

Dementia is the most feared aspect of ageing and is a major global health challenge, so identifying lifestyle factors that can reduce memory decline, and possibly prevent dementia from occurring, is a research priority. In our study, recently published in the IJE, we explored whether having more frequent contact with friends and family, or being married, is linked to better memory and language in older age.

We found that having more social contact and being married in mid-life were both linked to having better cognitive performance over the next 20 years. In particular, we found that verbal fluency was the cognitive area with the strongest link to social contact.

Continue reading “Having more frequent social contact is associated with better cognitive performance”

Economic recession, mental health and suicide

DGphoto 2014_0052David Gunnell

It’s over seven years since the onset of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and we’re beginning to get a clear idea of its impact on mental health and suicide.

In keeping with previous economic recessions, the 2008 financial crisis was followed by rises in suicide deaths in many affected countries. As documented in an article published in the British Medical Journal in 2013, younger men appear to have been particularly badly affected.

Recently published research in the International Journal of Epidemiology has provided new insights into the impact of economic down turns on mental health. Using Ireland’s impressive National Registry of Deliberate Self-Harm and national suicide data, Paul Corcoran and colleagues found that there were increases in suicide and self-harm in men and women in Ireland in the years after recession began. The greatest rises were seen in men. There were an estimated 8,800 excess episodes of self-harm (mainly suicide attempts) and 560 suicide deaths in 2008-12 compared to pre-recession trends.  Continue reading “Economic recession, mental health and suicide”

What should we know about precarious employment and health in 2025? Framing the agenda for the next decade of research

Joan Benach, Alejandra Vives, Gemma Tarafa, Carlos Delclós and Carles Muntaner

João was 14 when he got his first job at a Brazilian bank. By the time he was 19, he was working part-time as an assistant to the board of directors of a multinational bank while working on a technical degree in foreign trade. He was earning about US$150 a month when he applied for a full-time position in the trade sector, but his application was denied because he was seen as too valuable in the position he held at the time. He then began to work on getting a university degree, but monthly payments cost more than what he was earning per month. When he saw his next transfer application for a different position in the trade sector denied, he left the university and decided to move to Canada. He felt that learning English would be a good way to improve his employment prospects.

bricklayers at work-free image
Bricklayers at work. Source: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/669032


Once there, he realised everything was more expensive than he had originally anticipated. Despite having only a tourist visa, João got a series of short-term jobs to support his English training. He worked brief stints as a carpet installer, an office assistant and, finally, as a bricklayer. It was in this final position that he earned CDN$29 an hour, over three times more than the minimum wage he’d earned in his previous jobs. Yet, as an undocumented worker, he was denied political, health and educational rights, and was constantly exposed to abuse by his employers and severe income insecurity. Moreover, the overlong work shifts, the exhausting nature of his tasks and a constant exposure to toxins took a substantial toll on his body.

João’s story, recounted by Denise Gastaldo in Employment, Work and Health Inequalities: A Global Perspective, is highly complex (see page 48 in this free e-book available at: https://www.upf.edu/greds-emconet/_pdf/Employmentweb_low.pdf). As he moves across occupational classes, pay grades and documentation statuses, the only constant is the precariousness of his employment situation. Yet precariousness is a concept that we are only beginning to grasp. Continue reading “What should we know about precarious employment and health in 2025? Framing the agenda for the next decade of research”