Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Inequality and longer life

Here is an interesting book by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett titled “The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger”.

As the title suggests, this book discusses a controversial topic that brings the relationship between materialism and happiness into question. The authors have composed their creative effort by relying on results such as below. What we see below is a weak correlation between the income equality and longevity of citizens.

What I find remarkable in the book and related blogs is the assumption that the argument has been framed around: longevity of life can be an indicator of equality. The causation linking equality of income to happiness and to a longer life is not very convincing. The factors that may be quite important in determining the longevity of life or happiness may be plenty. Not to make a comprehensive list by staining my few working neurons, I will propose the following as other important parameters that need to be controlled for developing a comprehensive argument: Spiritual inclination, genetic predisposition, family harmony, societal structure, weather, availability of leisure, access to medical care, economy's fiscal position etc.

 I find it hard to comprehend these arguments is when I find the four “social democratic” economies of Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark scattered  all over the range of the age distribution covered in this study. Well, as far as I understand, these countries are quite similar in the economy, weather, race, culture, and some other factors. The dispersion needs a valid explanation. Moreover, the income distribution disparity between Singapore and US may be quite comparable. But to compare Singapore’s older population, which achieved its independence quite recently, to US’s older generation is not an admirable argument. Singaporean elders faced severe malnutrition, multitude of tropical diseases, and dismal medical facilities till about last two and half decades.

My observations merely question the confidence and the legitimacy with which the book has been authored by utilizing data collected in the developed countries. I am sure this data has been shown to be “statistically significant”, but most of us who understand the statistical analysis would acknowledge that it may not mean much from a pragmatic outlook.

Someone needs to take a close look at the data and find better explanations than to resort to oversimplifications and grand generalizations. I must say that there is some truth in the statement that societies that refrain from discovering bliss in materialism and that do not contend in relative pleasure, will be happier compared with others. But, to claim this via an incomplete scientific study and to author a grand book requires some disconnection from the obvious reality.

No comments:

Post a Comment