Do wealth and inequality associate with health in a small-scale subsistence society?

Adrian Jaeggi, Aaron D. Blackwell, Christopher Von Rueden, Benjamin C. Trumble, Jonathan Stieglitz, Angela Garcia, Thomas S. Kraft, Bret A. Beheim, and Paul L. Hooper


In high-income countries, one's relative socio-economic position and economic inequality may affect health and well-being, arguably via psychosocial stress. We tested this in a small-scale subsistence society, the Tsimane, by associating relative household wealth (n=871) and community-level wealth inequality (n=40, Gini = 0.15 – 0.53) with a range of psychological variables, stressors, and health outcomes (depressive symptoms [n=670], social conflicts [n=401], non-social problems [n=398], social support [n=399], cortisol [n=811], BMI [n=9926], blood pressure [n=3195], self-rated health [n=2523], morbidities [n=1542]) controlling for community-average wealth, age, sex, household size, community size, and distance to markets. Wealthier people largely had better outcomes while inequality associated with more respiratory disease, a leading cause of mortality. Greater inequality and lower wealth were associated with higher blood pressure. Psychosocial factors didn't mediate wealth-health associations. Thus, relative socio-economic position and inequality may affect health across diverse societies, though this is likely exacerbated in high-income countries.;

Published in

eLife, n. 10:e59437, May 2021