Of all the millions of deaths happening around the world, more than half are due to certain top causes. Some of them are coronary heart disease, stroke, colon cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, and suicide. These causes could all be linked to a person’s social spending, says Daniel Kim, associate professor in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences at Northeastern University.
For his research, he examined the effects of the state and local spending of the U.S. —monies for welfare, education, and health—on mortality and drew not just a correlation, as the few earlier studies on the subject have done, but opened the door to inferring a cause-and-effect relationship between higher spending and longer lives for the more than 430,000 adults he assessed across the country.
“Each additional $250 spent per person per year on welfare predicted a 3-percentage point lower probability of their dying from any cause,” says Kim, “and the same amount spent per person on education reduced the chances by almost 1 percentage point.” He also highlights in his study, the most affected by state and local government social spending was coronary heart disease which kills more than 370,000 people annually.
The fact that income inequality affects health and mortality is not new. Research has shown that wider gaps in income generally correlate with a shorter average lifespan. However, less than a handful of studies have addressed the effects of social spending on health and mortality. On the other hand, Kim’s research is unlike others as he follows a statistical approach by following people over time and studying their spending limits.
“We certainly need to explore my findings further—such as identifying which specific welfare and education programs benefit health. However, I hope they will help launch a public discussion about the real-life health benefits and harms that state policymakers’ decisions can have on all of us,” says Kim.