The effects of community income inequality on health: Evidence from a randomized control trial in the Bolivian Amazon

Eduardo A. Undurraga*, Jere R. Behrman, William R. Leonard, Ricardo A. Godoy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations

Abstract

Research suggests that poorer people have worse health than the better-off and, more controversially, that income inequality harms health. But causal interpretations suffer from endogeneity. We addressed the gap by using a randomized control trial among a society of forager-farmers in the Bolivian Amazon. Treatments included one-time unconditional income transfers (T1) to all households and (T2) only to the poorest 20% of households, with other villages as controls. We assessed the effects of income inequality, absolute income, and spillovers within villages on self-reported health, objective indicators of health and nutrition, and adults' substance consumption. Most effects came from relative income. Targeted transfers increased the perceived stress of participants in better-off households. Evidence suggests increased work efforts among better-off households when the lot of the poor improved, possibly due to a preference for rank preservation. The study points to new paths by which inequality might affect health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)66-75
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Volume149
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

Keywords

  • C93
  • Development
  • Economic inequality
  • Health
  • I14
  • I15
  • I38
  • Income transfers
  • Randomized control trial
  • Z13

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science

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