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Market Myths and Social Facts

Now that we know how inequality harms the health of societies, individuals, and economies, reducing it should be our top priority. Anyone advocating policies that increase inequality and threaten the wellbeing of our societies is taking us for fools.

YORK – Many of us remember the 1970s for its music and fashion, but we should also take a lesson from its mistaken beliefs. Without easy access to data or analyses of social trends, some ideas about the workings of nature and society were completely backward. Today, we know things that were simply unknowable back then.

If you asked doctors in the 1970s who was most likely to suffer a heart attack, they would share an intuition about “executive stress.” People in senior leadership positions, it was believed, face higher risks of coronary disease because of the demands of their jobs.

It turns out that there is no such thing as executive stress, and heart disease is far more common – and deadlier – in people further down the socioeconomic ladder. Politicians and policymakers (and of course physicians) now know about health inequalities and the link between social status and morbidity, even if they do not always act effectively to address it.

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