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“Global patterns of income and health: facts, interpretations and policies” Deaton 2006

The 2006 WIDER annual lecture held by Angus Deaton of Princeton University focused on difficulties of measuring inequalities in health and whether or not income growth promotes health improvements.

In particular, Deaton pointed out that the conversion of life expectancy across countries should be considered with caution. In rich countries, life expectancy gains in the last half-century came largely from reductions in mortality among the middle aged and elderly. In poor countries, however, life expectancy gains are due to reductions in infant and child mortality. Deaton argues that reductions in mortality at different points in the age distribution are not equally valuable. Declining infant mortality could yield the same increase in life expectancy as declining mortality among the elderly. However, do we give both equal weight? For example, welfare gains of declining infant mortality accrue primarily to women; they’d bear fewer children, suffer less from witnessing their children die, and would be free to do other activities. Does declining mortality among the elderly yield similar benefits in wellbeing? Empirically, life expectancy is converging across countries. But without considering the reduction in mortality at different points in the age distribution, this conversion could understate the reduction in inequality.

Concerning the relationship between income growth and health improvements he states that, historically, literature is showing positive correlation between GDP and life expectancy.

According to Deaton, however, economic growth is not the best solution to improving health. There are examples where income growth and relative health improvements are weakly or negatively linked (for instance India and China). Furthermore, the causal linkage remains unclear. Is it health that enables nations to achieve economic growth or is material wealth a precondition to establish health improvements? Deaton argues that people in poor countries are sick, not primarily because they are poor, but because of other social organizational failures. Such failures include health delivery, which is not automatically ameliorated by higher incomes.


Angus Deaton (2006):“Global patterns of income and health: facts, interpretations and policies.” 2006 WIDER annual lecture

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