Is income inequality linked to infectious disease prevalence? A hypothesis-generating study using tuberculosis

Summary


We study the association between infectious disease incidence and income inequality. We hypothesize that random social mixing in an income-unequal society brings into contact a) susceptible and infected poor and b) the infected-poor and the susceptible-rich, raising infectious disease incidence. We analyzed publicly available, country-level panel data for a large cross-section of countries between 1995 and 2013 to examine whether countries with elevated levels of income inequality have higher rates of pulmonary Tuberculosis (TB) incidence per capita. A “negative control” using anemia and diabetes (both non-communicable diseases and hence impervious to the hypothesized mechanism) is also applied. We find that high levels of income inequality are positively associated with tuberculosis incidence. All else equal, countries with income-Gini coefficients 10% apart show a statistically significant 4% difference in tuberculosis incidence. Income inequality had a null effect on the negative controls. Our cross-country regression results suggest that income inequality may create conditions where TB spreads more easily, and policy action to reduce income inequities could directly contribute to a reduced TB burden.

Citation/Ref

Kim, M. K., Bhattacharya, J., & Bhattacharya, J. (2024). Is income inequality linked to infectious disease prevalence? A hypothesis-generating study using tuberculosis. Social Science & Medicine (1982), 345, 116639.

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