People in more equal societies live longer and a smaller proportion of children die in infancy. They are far less likely to experience mental illness and less likely to use illegal drugs. Children growing up in more equal societies do better at school. Communities are more cohesive and people trust each other more. Homicide rates are lower, children experience less violence and teenage motherhood is less common.
With a whole range of studies, Richard Wilkinson of the University of Nottingham, University College London and University of York showed delegates at the Planet Under Pressure conference on Wednesday why equality is better for all, not just those at the bottom of the heap. “Further economic growth will not improve our health or well-being. For a better quality of life we need greater income equality,” he said.
Wilkinson was addressing the nearly 3,000 physical and social scientists who had gathered for the March 26-29 conference that has been organised in London by the International Geosphere Biosphere Programme, Diversitas, International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change, World Climate Research Programme, Earth System Science Partnership and the International Council for Science.
“Inequality fuels status competition, individualism and consumerism,” he said. “It makes it harder to gain public support for policies to reduce global warming.” That was one indicator for the delegates who have been trying to figure out how to gain more support from the public and governments to tackle climate change. To do this, Wilkinson said, “We have to deal with social relations.”
Wilkinson limited his presentation on inequality to developed countries. The graphs he showed to illustrate his speech were revealing. They were from the website of The Equality Trust he has set up.