Material success and social failure?

Mar 02, 2009

It is common knowledge that in rich societies the poor have shorter lives and suffer more from almost every social problem. Likewise, large inequalities of income are often regarded as divisive and corrosive.

In a groundbreaking book, based on 30 years' research, Richard Wilkinson, Emeritus Professor at The University of Nottingham together with co-author Kate Pickett from the University of York, go an important stage beyond either of these ideas to demonstrate that more unequal societies are bad for almost everyone within them — the well-off as well as the poor.

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett forcefully demonstrate that nearly every modern social and environmental problem — ill-health, lack of community, life, violence, drugs, obesity, mental illness, long working hours, big prison populations — is more likely to occur in a less equal society, and adversely affects all of those within it.

The remarkable data the book presents and the measures it uses are like a spirit level which we can hold up to compare the conditions of different societies. It reveals that if Britain became as equal as the average for the four most equal of the rich countries (Japan, Norway, Sweden and Finland), levels of trust might be expected to increase by two-thirds, homicide rates could fall by 75 per cent, everyone could get the equivalent of almost seven weeks extra holiday a year, and governments could be closing prisons all over the country.

The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, shows us how, after a point, additional income buys less and less additional health, happiness and wellbeing. The issue is now community and how we relate to each other. This important book explains how it is now possible to piece together a new, compelling and coherent picture of how we can release societies from the grip of pervasive and schismatic dysfunctional behaviour, a picture which will revitalise politics and provide a new way of thinking about how we organise human communities. It is a major new approach to how we can improve the real quality of life, not just for the poor, but for everyone.

Richard Wilkinson has played a formative role in international research and his work has been published in 10 languages. He studied economic history at the London School of Economics before training in epidemiology and is Professor Emeritus at The University of Nottingham Medical School and Honorary Professor at University College London.

Kate Pickett is a Senior Lecturer at the University of York and a National Institute for Health Research Career Scientist. She studied physical anthropology at Cambridge, nutritional sciences at Cornell and epidemiology at Berkeley before spending four years as an Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago.

They have founded The Equality Trust, a charitable trust which seeks to explain the benefits of a more equal society, for more information visit: www.equalitytrust.org.uk/.

Source: University of Nottingham

Explore further: Poll shows giant gap between what public, scientists think

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Genes play a key part in the recipe for a happy country

Oct 30, 2014

Why are the Danes naturally more cheerful than the Brits, and why are we in turn more upbeat than the French? Research presented as part of this year's ESRC Festival of Social Sciences shows us that the recipe behind a happy ...

The right to privacy in a big data world

Oct 27, 2014

In the digital age in which we live, monitoring, security breaches and hacks of sensitive data are all too common. It has been argued that privacy has no place in this big data environment and anything we put online can, ...

Recommended for you

Is this the year you join the one percent?

8 hours ago

Here's some good news for the New Year: According to new research by Washington University in St. Louis and Cornell University, there's a 1 in 9 chance that a typical American will hit the jackpot and join ...

Satire has a history of informing during times of crisis

18 hours ago

Just as only the jester can tell the King the truth, satire performs a vital function in democratic society by using humor to broach taboo subjects, especially in times of crisis, according to a book by Penn State researchers.

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

SDMike2
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 02, 2009
"It is common knowledge that..." typically introduces a non-fact that the author is attempting to shove down the reader's throat. Actually, poor societies do not have valid date upon which one can draw conclusions. Smells like BS to me. Old socialist saw "we should all be poor together."
moebiex
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 03, 2009
Whereas to me it seems likely to provide a more realistic, and perhaps even objective, basis for defining and evaluating the concept of enlightened self interest, a subject that has been generously ridiculed and defamed over the past few decades of neocon dominance. The fruits of that particular labour are on display for all to see now and still some cannot get past viewing themselves as independent as prescribed by selfish philosophies of greed. Who is the fool?
notaphysicist
not rated yet Mar 11, 2009
Sounds like transi-nonsense to me.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.