Rising U.S. income inequality and the changing gradient of socioeconomic status on physical functioning and activity limitations, 1984-2007.
This study examines the interactive contextual effect of income inequality on health. Specifically, we hypothesize that income inequality will moderate the relationships between individual-level risk factors and health. Using National Health Interview Survey data 1984-2007 (n = 607,959) and U.S. Census data, this paper estimates the effect of the dramatic increase in income inequality in the U.S. over the past two decades on the gradient of socioeconomic status on two measures of health (i.e., physical functioning and activity limitations). Results indicate that increasing income inequality strengthens the protective effects of family income, employment, college education, and marriage on these two measures of health. In contrast, high school education's protective effect (relative to less than a high school education) weakens in the context of increasing income inequality. In addition, we find that increasing income inequality exacerbates men's disadvantages in physical functioning and activity limitations. These findings shed light on research about growing health disparities in the U.S. in the last several decades.
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