The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger

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by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

Type: Book [title]
Published March 2009
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Richard Wilkinson, is the Professor of Medical Epidemiology at Nottingham University. Kate Pickett is a Lecturer in Epidemiology at the University of York. Within the 400+ pages of this book, they emphasise that it is not the poor and the deprived in isolation who suffer from the effects of inequality, but also the bulk of that nation's population. According to their findings. incidences of mental illness, for example, are 500% higher across the whole population spectrum in the most unequal societies than they in the most 'eqaul' ones.

So this book is a book for all classes and it makes for a pretty good - if not dynamic - reading experience. Given half a chance, it will certainly set you thinking and musing over the values of a variety of societies, near and afar, but not least of all the society we live, work, and take our leisure in.

The co-authors tried to identify why the health of a population worsens as one slides further down the social scale. It is a s simple as that. They reckon that they have, together, amassed in excess of fifty years procuring and collating data from around the world. This data was then placed in juxtaposition to related medical data. Credit where credit is due; the authors were the first to synchronise these two vital, but hitherto separate, fields of research. .

Simply put, their method is to plot the level of health related/social problems against the difference in income of the world's twenty richest countries. Cleverly, this is repeated for each of the fifty United States. Each problem is dealt with separartely, the data being represented in graphic form. Wherever there is a large differential betwixt the two ends of the income scale, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, obesity, mental problems, and even teenage pregnancy occur more frequently, people live for a shorter period and commit suicide more regularly. Additionally, but just as damningly, children are not as well educated and less literate .

So which countries score well on this scale? Interestingly, if not entirely surprisingly, Scandanavia and Japan have can be seen to have the narrowest of divergence betwixt highest and lowest incomes and, indeed, boast the best psychological health of all. Conversely and rather predictably, those nations with the widest gulf between rich and poor, are thus plagued by the highest occurrence of health-related and social problems. Here's the rub; those countries are, in fact, Britain, the USA and Portugal.

Why is this? Well, their answer is simple, profound and disquieting; they argue that inequality, ipso facto, breeds stress across the full spectrum of society, not just among down trodden. Indeed, whilst subject to stress, individuals become far more susceptible to syndromes like depression, phobias of divers sorts, and basic anxiety This fact renders the individual far more likely to develop one of a range of physical potentially perilous conditions such as obesity, accompanying heart disease, addictions, immune deficiency as well as premature ageing. The super-rich thus become demons, a drain and a plague on society rather than a super-hero class of noble society saving investors, or the like.

If you're worried by all of this, have a good read of this book and act upon it! And on that very point, the authors themselves urge that greater equality becomes grounded and 'built in' to the models of present and future societies. Moreover, they have actually taken the commendable step of putting their actions where their thoughts are and have founded a non-profit making trust - entitled '' - so that the data and evidence, which is presented within the pages of their book, can be better distributed and accessed on a broader scale; good thinking, guys!

Review by: Michael Calum Jacques