A social inequality icon in São Paulo, Brazil's biggest city: The Paraisópolis Favela and the luxury buildings

Wealth Inequality is a Vital Public Health Issue

Every day, 10,000 people die because of a lack of health care. Yes, every day. That’s over 3.5 million people annually. This shocking statistic comes from a report released last month by Oxfam.

The primary topic of Oxfam’s report was not global mortality rates or health coverage. Rather it was about global wealth and income inequality. Oxfam’s title for the press release containing this information was “Billionaire fortunes grew by $2.5 billion a day last year as poorest saw their wealth fall.”

The global humanitarian crisis of millions of avoidable deaths due to lack of health care is but one of many crises exacerbated by rapidly increasing wealth inequality. Without corrective measures, this “global inegalitarian spiral” is predicted to result in the richest 1% owning two-thirds of global wealth by the year 2030.

But this crisis is not only global in scale. Even within wealthy countries like the United States, the correlations between wealth and health are sobering. A 2017 study found that rich Americans live up to 15 years longer than poor Americans. Such findings are in keeping with studies like the 2009 American Journal of Public Health article which found that 45,000 Americans die annually due to lack of health coverage. While the Affordable Care Act has been effective in decreasing the rate of Americans lacking health insurance, the potential benefits are likely to be continually mitigated while the country remains under a White House which has continually undermined lynchpins crucial for the Act’s continued success.

In an era of massive wealth inequality, we need to marshal a wide variety of strategies that help spread the financial costs of illness and health care costs that can’t always be predicted and often can’t be afforded. Yet, finding ways to shuffle risk within a massively inequitable society can only get us so far. Addressing the spiraling state of wealth equality both within the United States and globally is a vital part of addressing inequitable mortality rates based on socioeconomic status.

Those interested in more equitable health outcomes must support measure to decrease wealth inequality like alterations to the tax code that would result in the wealthy paying their fair share of taxes and reform to who and what we subsidize with taxpayer money. These reforms are literally a matter of life and death.

Image: A social inequality icon in São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city: The Paraisópolis Favela and the luxury buildings

Mark Satta is a 2018-2019 Petrie-Flom Center Student Fellow. 


Mark Satta

Mark Satta is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Wayne State University. He holds a JD from Harvard Law School and a PhD in Philosophy from Purdue University. His research interests include First Amendment law, health law, bioethics, and epistemology. He was a 2018-2019 Student Fellow at the Petrie Flom Center, where he completed a project entitled, "Spitting at Science: HIV Criminalization Laws and the Duty to Legislate in Accordance with Current Scientific Knowledge."

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