Tag Archives: kate pickett

Inequality in society harms our mental health – how can we fix it?

“Wealth is not a measure of worth. But low income is related to feelings of inferiority.” Across a range of countries, studies have shown, the experience of poverty leads to people believing they have failed themselves for being poor, and accepting that others feel like that about them.

This is part of the remarkable findings of professors Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, epidemiologists, whom I heard giving a talk on inequality on Wednesday night in a Keswick church.

Speaking alternately and informally, the professors reminded an attentive audience of how common it is for people to feel inadequate in social gatherings. They may feel they aren’t dressed correctly, can’t make small talk, and are scared of being judged. Sometimes people find social contact so difficult that they withdraw from social life. 

“Yet social contact is crucial to health and to happiness”, the speakers said.

They explained that income inequality is linked to anxiety about social status. There has been a study across 28 European nations of social anxiety, looking at it in relation to different income levels in these societies. The study found that there is more anxiety about status in unequal societies, and the more inequality, the greater the anxiety.

It was apparently known ten years ago when the two professors’ important book ‘The Spirit Level’ was published that there was more mental illness in more unequal societies. But studies of social psychologists, they told us, had led them to understand how this may happen. People made to feel they are inferior will sometimes struggle against the feeling, but others will accept it, internalise a feeling of subordination and submission, and become more prone to depression.

Other psychological effects of living in a more unequal society, the speakers continued, include more wrong self-estimation. Apparently in the USA 96% of drivers think that their driving is better than the average! In Sweden it is 66%. The greater the inequality, the greater is the tendency for people to be narcissistic, so that it becomes difficult to tell the differences between self-esteem and narcissism. (And “It’s awful if narcissism gets to a position of power!” they added, to rueful laughter from the audience.)

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How does The Spirit Level withstand a critic?

The success of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s The Spirit Level (reviewed here in August) in setting the terms for much political discussion unsurprisingly triggered a burst of publications taking a sceptical look at their case. Prime amongst these is Policy Exchange’s publication Beware False Prophets, by Peter Saunders, whose title gives you a fair clue as to its line.

As the book says on its back cover:

In The Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett claimed that egalitarian societies benefit rich and poor alike. Crime rates are lower, infant mortality is reduced, obesity is less prevalent, education

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Book review: The Spirit Level – Why equality is better for everyone by Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett

Although first published under a Labour government in 2009, this book is still highly relevant now we have a Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition. In fact, it is even more relevant because the current political and economic circumstances are forcing Liberal Democrats to think carefully about how much we are worried about inequality of outcome. Wilkinson and Pickett argue that widespread inequality helps increase a huge range of social ills, with the result that everyone suffers – even the most well off. Inequality in their view isn’t just bad for the poor, it’s also bad for the rich.

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Opinion: Support the Equality Pledge

For many years the researchers Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have been investigating the relationship between wealth, inequality, and measurements of a good society. The measurements of a good society would be low levels of crime, low levels of teenage pregnancy, good health in terms of long life expectancy, low levels of obesity – and many other measures besides.

During their research they have published books on this, and finally they published the book “The Spirit Level“, which has had the biggest impact of all.

There are many countries that are poor, and clearly they need economic growth in order to …

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Opinion: Poverty, equality and solutions

Politicians talk constantly about “lifting people out of poverty”, mending our “broken society”, giving people “equality of opportunity” and, more rarely “creating a more equal society”.

What none of them seem to be prepared to face is the fact that people are poor principally because they have less money than others; and that when poverty goes along with a feeling that it is not going to be possible, whatever one does, to get out of poverty, it does not matter what “opportunities” are provided – poor people will see through the pretence that the opportunities apply to them …

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Inequality: the enemy between us?

Richard Wilkinson, Emeritus Professor of Social Epidemiology, University of Nottingham and Kate Pickett, Professor of Epidemiology, University of York are co-directors of The Equality Trust and authors of The Spirit Level: why more equal societies almost always do better.

There is a long list of health and social problems which tend to be more common in the most deprived areas of Britain. The further down the social ladder you look, the more common they are. The pattern is the same whether you look at heart disease, homicides, teenage birth rates, mental illness, imprisonment, drug abuse, obesity, poor maths and literacy scores, low levels of child wellbeing, life expectancy or infant mortality.

Posted in Op-eds and The Independent View | Also tagged and | 12 Comments
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