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Does village inequality in modern income harm the psyche? Anger, fear, sadness, and alcohol consumption in a pre-industrial society

  • Economics


Researchers have found a positive association between income inequality and poor individual health. To explain the link, researchers have hypothesized that income inequality erodes community social capital, which unleashes negative emotions, stress, and stress behaviors that hurt health. Few studies have tested the hypothesized path. Here we estimate the association between (a) village income inequality and social capital, and (b) three distinct negative emotions (anger, fear, sadness) and one stress behavior (alcohol consumption). We use four quarters of panel data (2002-2003) from 655 adults in 13 villages of a foraging-farming society in the Bolivian Amazon (Tsimane'). We found that: (1) village income inequality was associated with more negative emotions but with less alcohol consumption, (2) social capital always bore a negative association with outcomes, and (3) results held up after introducing many changes to the main model. We conclude that village income inequality probably affects negative emotions and stress behaviors through other paths besides social capital because we conditioned for social capital. One such path is an innate dislike of inequality, which might have pre-human origins. Our prior research with the Tsimane' suggests that village income inequality bore an insignificant association with individual health. Therefore, village income inequality probably affects negative emotions and stress behaviors before undermining health.

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