University of Limerick
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The stress of income inequality

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posted on 2023-02-03, 13:46 authored by Megan RyanMegan Ryan

Income inequality is a growing concern (Amedolara, 2022), that is linked to many negative health consequences (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2010). While this is well explored epidemiologically, the social psychological consequences are less understood (Peters et al., 2022). Through three empirical studies, this thesis examines how income inequality affects health using a social psychological approach, with a particular focus on the biological pathways that may underpin this relationship. 

Paper 1 shows experimentally manipulated income inequality and income group affect cardiovascular responses in a university sample (N = 102). Utilising a paradigm by Jetten et al., (2015), it provides preliminary evidence of income inequality as a direct stressor, which interacts with income group to affect cardiovascular reactivity.

Paper 2 shows real world income inequality across time affects health outcomes, specifically cardiovascular reactivity, in conjunction with ethnic group membership and subjective status (N = 1155). This extends evidence of a biological pathway underpinning this relationship, and emphasises the importance of subjective status and ethnic group membership in this relationship. 

Paper 3 addresses a gap in the literature (Benson et al., 2021) by demonstrating subjective measures of income inequality also affect health over time (N = 109). It shows attitudes to income inequality interact with household income to affect health. This paper also shows income inequality affects mental health, not just physical health.

Overall, this thesis makes valuable contributions to help us understand the complex relationship between income inequality and health. By using a social psychological approach and combining this with physiological measures, it provides some evidence of a biological pathway linking these factors. This thesis also highlights the important interacting effect of social factors such as group status and membership to this relationship. As such, this thesis adds to a growing body of literature taking a social identity analysis to income inequality.



  • Faculty of Education and Health Sciences


  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Orla Muldoon

Second supervisor

Stephen Gallagher

Department or School

  • Psychology

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