post by Bill Gardner
From Angus Deaton, in a manuscript about the health gradient, the finding that social advantage is associated with better health. The health gradient is found in societies through out the world; which makes us believe that it is somehow baked into social life. But health and social advantage have not always been associated.
It is sometimes supposed that the gradient has always been with us, that rich people have always lived healthier and longer lives than poor people. That this supposition is generally false is vividly shown by Harris (2004, Figure 2) who compares the life expectancies at birth of the general population in England with that of ducal families. From the middle of the 16th to the middle of the 19th century, there was little obvious trend in general life expectancy. For the ducal families up to 1750, life expectancy was no higher than, and sometimes lower than, the life expectancy of the general population. However, during the century after 1750, the life prospects of the aristocrats pulled away from those of the general population, and by 1850–74, they had an advantage of about 20 years. After 1850, the modern increase in life expectancy became established in the general population. Johansson (2009) tells a similar story for the British royals compared to the general population, though the royals began with an even lower life expectancy at birth.
I suppose we could have learned this from Shakespeare.
The health gradient is, in my view, the central injustice. It has not always been here, so perhaps we can make it go away again.