Health and economic development since 1900

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12 Citations (Scopus)


The 20th century has brought unprecedented gains in health. While these have improved citizens’ lives worldwide, progress has been uneven and have in turn led to substantial cross-country health inequalities. This article looks at the effects of these inequalities on between-country economic inequality since 1900 using a level accounting framework that includes life expectancy as an important part of human capital besides education. The main results show that health has been a historically important source of cross-country income variation. In 1900 and 1955, differences in life expectancy accounted for almost 20 percent and a quarter of between-country income inequality. In addition, I find that the reduction of cross-country health differentials between mid-20th century and 1990 was an important source of income convergence. In a counterfactual exercise, I show that between-country income inequality would have been almost 20 percent higher nowadays, had the process of health convergence after 1955 not taken place. Finally, I find that the relative importance of health for income levels has stayed constant in the last three decades due to a deceleration in the rate of health convergence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)228-237
JournalEconomics and Human Biology
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2018
Externally publishedYes


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