In response to recent criticism, the authors of The Spirit Level defends its claim that there is always a link between social problems and inequalityby Richard Wilkinson / August 10, 2010 / Leave a comment
In our book The Spirit Level, Kate Pickett and I demonstrated that, first, many problems which are more prevalent lower down the social ladder are worse in societies with bigger income differences, and second, that almost everyone would benefit from reduced inequality. To some, however, these seem impossible notions. Writing in the August 2010 edition of Prospect, Matthew Sinclair from the Taxpayers Alliance claimed our research was “simply untrue.”
Sinclair believes he has spotted statistical sleights of hand that hundreds of fellow academics who reviewed our research papers for numerous journals have failed to detect. Decades of peer-reviewed epidemiological research, funded by research councils have, he imagines, been torn to shreds by Christopher Snowdon—author of The Spirit Level Delusion. While Snowdon is described as a “public health researcher,” in actual fact he has no public health qualifications and appears never to have published research in a peer-reviewed journal. Instead, his main contribution to public health is a diatribe against tobacco control and a denial of the ill effects of second-hand smoke.
What The Spirit Level shows is that more equal societies enjoy better physical and mental health, lower homicide rates, fewer drug problems, fewer teenage births, higher maths and literacy scores, higher standards of child wellbeing, less bullying in schools, lower obesity rates, and fewer people in prison. Furthermore, that more equal societies also have a stronger community life and are more cohesive. Over the years a large number of research papers have shown that one or other of these problems are more common in more unequal societies. Of course we could simply have picked out the most dramatic examples from other people’s work to show in our book. However, in order to show the remarkably consistent tendency for problems associated with relative deprivation to be more common in more unequal societies, we wanted to show that this pattern occurs in one problem after another, even when we use exactly the same group of countries and the same measures of inequality.
To rule out the effects of differences in material living standards, we looked only at the very richest societies where—in contrast to poorer countries—there is no longer any correlation between national income per person and outcomes such as health, happiness or wellbeing. Identifying the 50 richest countries according to the World Bank’s preferred method for classifying countries into “high”, “medium” and “low” income categories, we also removed countries with…