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How Economic Inequality Inflicts Real Biological Harm

By Robert M. Sapolsky ~ Scientific American ~

The growing gulf between rich and poor inflicts biological damage on bodies and brains

Western cultures have long cherished the notion that all people are created equal. But in the real world, our lives are not balanced with equal opportunities and resources. This distinction was noted mordantly in 1894 by author Anatole France, who wrote that “the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” The rich, of course, need none of these things, whereas the poor often have little choice. And economic disparity has only gotten worse during the past several decades, particularly in the U.S. In 1976 the richest 1 percent of U.S. citizens owned 9 percent of the country’s wealth; today they own nearly 24 percent. This trend echoes around the globe.

One of the consequences for the growing poor is worsening health, and the reasons are not as obvious as you might think. Yes, lower socioeconomic status (SES) means less access to health care and living in more disease-prone neighborhoods.

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