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Researchers Say Death Can Be Due to Social Problems

July 10, 2011
Plain English Version

Does being poor cause people to die? A new study says it does. The biggest reasons are:

  • Low education (not having graduated from high school)
  • Poverty (household income below $10,000)
  • Racial segregation (a population more than 25 percent black)
  • Community’s overall poverty level
  • Significant differences in income levels
  • Low social support systems

The researchers looked at many studies of low-income people. They arrived at a number of deaths caused by living in communities with the reasons shown above.

In the year 2000, they said:

  • 176,000 deaths due to racial segregation
  • 133,000 deaths due to individual poverty
  • 245,000 deaths due to low education
  • 291,000 deaths due to poverty and income differences in communities

According to the author of the study, social factors are not the same as diseases or accidents. Certain “behaviors,” such as smoking do cause death. Behaviors traced to poverty, for example, may lead people not to practice good health care. This can be a cause of death.

The author of the study said: “the question is not ‘Why should we think of poverty as cause of death?’ but rather ‘Why should we not think of poverty as a cause of death?’ ”.

The authors say the study has its limitations. An independent reviewer said the study shows the results of social problems. He said it did a good job of making the argument that social conditions matter.

The New York Times


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