Lasting Inequality

A new paper by Colgate economist Michael R. Haines uses infant and childhood mortality rates to trace inequality in the U.S. in the 20th century. Haines reaches an interesting conclusion: “The evidence shows that, although there have been large?absolute reductions in the level of infant and child mortality rates and also a reduction in the absolute levels of differences across socioeconomic groups, relative inequality has not diminished over the 20th century.”[%comments]


In other words, we should pay more attention to human welfare from an absolute, rather than relative sense. This concern with inequality is a waste of time.


Research confirms the obvious.


Hardly surprising. Despite of extensive social programs and redistributive policies, researchers find out that 50 % of people are still getting below the median income! What injustice!

Much of the relative inequality discussion is just rubbish, all over the world. What should be done is make sure that even those with small incomes can get education for their children. Education has been a large factor in social mobility upwards - although it is good to remember that social mobility is also a relative concept, i.e. if someone moves socially "up", then someone else moves "down".

What really makes me mad is not that some family has less money than others; it is the vicious circle of poor education, unemployment, welfare dependency, general helplessness, alcoholism and abuse of children. It doesn't get better by increasing the welfare dependency part.


I recommend to everyone reading the book "The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better", by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. The book shows with statistical data from developed countries, as well as by using data from the different US states, how inequality is one or the main cause of many, many of the problems that modern societies suffer.

Off course the US is one of the most unequal countries in the world, and so its population suffers the consequences of it.


the poor in the US suffer from excess food, excess housing, transportation, schooling, roads, police and military protection.

drive through a real degraded US neighborhood, then watch those commercial with the flys on the kids who need 18 cents a day to get food.

compare the poor in the US who get cell phones and cable TV to the poor in other countries.


I meant, "Of course" :)


What's so great about 'more' education? Twenty years ago, BLS observed (and Money magazine reported) that one-fifth of U.S. college graduates were working in positions which did not require education beyond high school...and projected that by the end of the decade, the proportion of underemployed graduates would reach one-fourth.

At my last job I earned minimum wage, working with two dozen others, all earning within twenty cents of minimum wage, and one-fourth of the employees had college degrees.

This country already has more than sufficient college-educated un(der)employed baristas.


Hernan says "Of course the US is one of the most unequal countries in the world, and so its population suffers the consequences of it."

If the US is (close to) as bad as it gets, then I believe the world is doing pretty good. It's not perfect, but the opportunities and quality of life are pretty good. The current economic crisis is unfortunate, but certainly not a result of inequality. In fact, efforts to overcome perceived inequality in home ownership were part of the cause.


I have to agree with Colin.

The phrase "there have been large absolute reductions in the level of infant and child mortality rates and also a reduction in the absolute levels of differences across socioeconomic groups" seems more important than relative inequality, yet they choose the pessimistic sounding title of "lasting inequality" for the post.

Seems sensationalist to me.


THE term Inequality is somewhat misleading. The situation in US is vast majority of People in US such as: carpenters, nurses, writers, bus drivers, teachers, editors, plumbers, waitress etc are working poor.
Just 1% of US population is worry free.
The trouble is many working poor Americans pretending to be upper class.

Island hopper

Could it be that soon after the civil rights bill was passed, employers moved jobs overseas?

Eric M. Jones

There is always a lot of hand waving on this issue, but numbers are scarce. Here is a "pocket" fact to keep in mind.

2.5% of the US population owns 50% of the wealth--and 50% of the US population owns 2.5% of the wealth.

Z / B

I think I must be missing something here, what is so freakish about this "finding?"

James P. Scanlan

Neither relative differences nor absolute differences between infant mortality rates are useful indicators of whether infant mortality inequalities have changed in a meaningful sense. All standard measures of differences between rates tend to be affected by the overall prevalence of an outcome. As an outcome decreases in overall prevalence, solely for reasons related to the shape of the risk distributions, relative differences in experiencing it tend to increase while relative differences in avoiding it tend to decline. Absolute differences tend also be systematically affected by the overall prevalence of an outcome, though in a more complicated way. For fuller explanations see the (1) Measuring Health Disparities, (2) Scanlan's Rule, and (3) Mortality and Survival pages of As to whether disparities in infant mortality have changed in a meaningful sense, see Section A.7 of the Scanlan's Rule page.



Welfare-reform-as-we-got-it has been a powerful tool for strengthening inequality while effectively hiding data about those at the bottom.