Income inequality and adult nutritional status: Anthropometric evidence from a pre-industrial society in the Bolivian Amazon uri icon

abstract

  • Evidence has been accumulated about the adverse effects of income inequality on individual health in industrial nations, but we know less about its effect in small-scale, pre-industrial rural societies. Income inequality should have modest effects on individual health. First, norms of sharing and reciprocity should reduce the adverse effects of income inequality on individual health. Second, with sharing and reciprocity, personal income will spill over to the rest of the community, attenuating the protective role of individual income on individual health found in industrial nations. We test these ideas with data from Tsimane' Amerindians, a foraging and farming society in the Bolivian Amazon. Subjects included 479 household heads (13 + years of age) from 58 villages. Dependent variables included anthropometric indices of short-run nutritional status (body-mass index (BMI), and age- and sex-standardized z-scores of mid-arm muscle area and skinfolds). Proxies for income included area deforested per person the previous year and earnings per person in the last 2 weeks. Village income inequality was measured with the Gini coefficient. Income inequality did not correlate with anthropometric indices, most likely because of negative indirect effects from the omission of social-capital variables, which would lower the estimated impact of income inequality on health. The link between BMI and income and between skinfolds and income resembled a U and an inverted U; income did not correlate with mid-arm muscle area. The use of an experimental research design might allow for better estimates of how income inequality affects social capital and individual health. (c) 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

publication date

  • 2005
  • 2005