I’ve written before on poverty traps. In this post, I’ll have a more detailed look at one of these traps. Poverty is both a cause and a result of ill health, which results in a vicious circle that’s very hard to break:
Poverty as a CAUSE of ill health
Poverty causes ill health because it leads to:
- Insufficient or inadequate food
- Consumption of unhealthy water
- Inadequate sanitation; the poor in urban areas often live in overcrowded communities where there’s too much garbage, poor drainage and other factors that encourage disease
- Insufficient education and knowledge about healthy lifestyles
- People being forced to do unhealthy work
- Inadequate shelter
- People being forced to live in unhealthy environments; many poor people are poor because they are born in poor families or communities, and hence they have a higher risk of communicable disease
- Higher levels of maternal mortality in poor communities/families also increases the risk of ill health for the rest of the community/family: young children have to take over part of the responsibilities for care and income, and as a consequence lose out on education which has consequences for their health (see above)
- Inadequate access to health facilities, because of lack of transport, lack of money to pay for care, lack of knowledge of the possibilities of care, lack of health insurance (see below) etc.
- Many poor people live in poor countries, i.e. countries that lack the funds or other means to create a good public health system, to provide adequate and good quality sanitation, water, energy supply (heating for example) and transportation.
Obviously, poverty is not the only cause of ill health, and all poor people are not ill. An excess of wealth can also create ill health (because of gluttony for example). People have to take care of themselves, and cannot always blame poverty for their predicament.
Poverty as a RESULT of ill health
- People who are sick lose income or often even their job
- Healthcare is expensive, and may push some people into poverty. Here’s a graph showing the poverty rates in the US before and after health expenses:
- The share of people that fall below the poverty line rises if these expenses are taken into account (especially for the elderly, of course, since they spend more on health care). Since poor people are generally less well protected by health insurance (see below), their expenses will be relatively higher.
These causal relations show up in the data. It’s no surprise that the data on poverty and health indicators show strong correlations.
Living in poverty is associated with lower life expectancy, high infant mortality, poor reproductive health, higher rates of infectious diseases (notably tuberculosis and HIV infection), higher rates of substance use (tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs), higher rates of non-communicable diseases, depression and suicide, and increased exposure to environmental risks. Poor children are more likely to die by the age of five years and to suffer from acute respiratory infections, diarrhea, congenital anomalies and chronic diseases. (source)
Life expectancy in a poor neighborhood of Glasgow, U.K. , is on average 20 years shorter than in the richer parts:
Black males in the US have a life expectancy of 69, with 87 for Asian females.