How democracy alters our view of inequality -- and what it means for our health.

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Date: Aug. 2021
From: Social Science & Medicine(Vol. 283)
Publisher: Elsevier Science Publishers
Document Type: Report
Length: 432 words

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Keywords Democracy; Media; Health; Inequality; Treatment estimators Highlights * Political systems may alter the messages individuals receive about inequality. * In democracies people are more likely to learn about rising inequality via media. * Self-rated health is lower among those who believe that inequality has risen. * Being more aware of inequality can negatively affect self-rated health. * Democracies may not be unambiguously positive for self-rated health. Abstract Background Income inequality is associated with poor health when economic disparities are especially salient. Yet, political institutions may alter this relationship because democracies (as opposed to autocracies) may be more inclined to frame inequalities in negative rather than positive ways. Living in a particular political system potentially alters the messages individuals receive about whether inequality is large or small, good or bad, and this, in turn, might affect whether beliefs about inequality influence health. Further, media coverage of economic inequality may negatively affect health if it contributes toward the general perception that the gap between rich and poor has gone up, even if there has been no change in income differentials. Methods In this study, we explore the relationship between democracy, perceptions of inequality, and self-rated health across 28 post-communist countries using survey and macro-level data, multilevel regression models, and inverse probability weighting to estimate the average treatment effect on the treated. Results We find that self-rated health is higher in more democratic countries and lower among people who believe that inequality has risen in the last few years. Moreover, we observe that people in democracies are more likely to learn about rising inequality through watching television and that when they do it has a more harmful effect on their health than when people in autocracies learn about rising inequality through the same channel, suggesting that in countries where there is less trust in the television media learning about rising inequality is not as harmful for health. Conclusions Our results indicate that while democracies are generally good for well-being, they may not be unambiguously positive for health. This does not mean, of course, that inequality is good for health nor that, on average, autocracies have better health than democracies; but rather that being more aware of inequality can negatively affect self-rated health. Author Affiliation: (a) Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo, Postboks 1096 Blindern, 0317, Oslo, Norway (b) Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford, 32 Wellington Square, OX1 2ER, Oxford, United Kingdom * Corresponding author. Article History: Received 14 September 2020; Revised 27 June 2021; Accepted 28 June 2021 Byline: Alexi Gugushvili [alexi.gugushvili@sosgeo.uio.no] (a,*), Aaron Reeves [aaron.reeves@spi.ox.ac.uk] (b)

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A669830437