Inequality is a common social phenomenon which causes economic and social disparities among the rich and the poor. In many countries, the difference between the rich and the poor is on the increase. Accordingly, one of the prices of inequality is poverty. Tischler & Hunter (2010) believes that inequality produces a unique form of psychosocial stress which leads to deteriorating health as well as increased mortality over time. Individuals and communities that live in areas that are under-invested with regards to social and physical infrastructure are prone to poor healthy, which results in increased mortality for those in lower socio-economic class. Moreover, the effects of inequality may spill over into the society causing family disruptions and frustrations and stress which in turn increase the rate of crime, violence and homicide.
Inequality also causes poor health as a result of poverty. This is because the poor people who are disadvantaged by inequality have high levels of exposure to dangerous environments in addition to lacking the basic amenities of life. As such, it is no surprise that the negative association between socio-economic level and risk of disease pandemics is a major pervasive observation in studies of public health. Across the world, it has been observed and documented that individuals from low-income households are more susceptible to the negative effects of risky healthy behaviors. This phenomenon can have a racial dimension when inequality cuts across racial lines in the community. In addition, people from lower socio-economic classes, because of their life circumstances, are subjected to life stressors and have fewer resources to manage these stressors.
Inequality has also been found to be related to increased incidences of psychiatric conditions. According to Tischler & Hunter (2010), psychiatric disorders not only occur in high rates in socio-economically poor areas, but also in disintegrating city communities. Therefore, even though money does not necessarily guarantee good mental health, its absence can lead to mental illnesses. For a long time now, the relationship between socio-economic status and different aspects of mental health has been of interest to researchers and clinicians. There is thus a large body of research showing the importance of socio-economic status in understanding mental illnesses and disabilities. Generally, researches have demonstrated an inverse relationship between socio-economic status and psychological health. Most of the psychological disorders have been shown to be more prevalent among people in lower socio-economic communities.
Alcohol and substance abuse is another major social impact of inequality. Generally, high rates of alcohol and drug abuse are found among those people from lower socio-economic classes. Therefore, social class is a risk factor for alcohol and substance abuse-related mortality, which can also be linked to other social structural factors. It can be noted that mortality rates related to alcohol and substance abuse are higher for people in manual occupations than those in non-manual occupations although the relative magnitude depends on income levels (Tischler & Hunter, 2010).
Regarding the impact of social inequality as relates to race, it has been observed that wider differences in social and economic status between people from different racial backgrounds causes increased discrimination and social distances. It not only leads to slower social mobility, but also increased residential segregation of the poor and the rich. The result of this is that people become always involved in community life, suffer more organized crimes and violence and are less likely to trust each other. Due to the psychological damage inflicted by being regarded as inferior, the level of social inequality is a key determinant of the standards of performance in areas such as education, crime level, quality of community life and health (Tischler & Hunter 2010).
In the modern world, rising levels of social inequality are inversely related to slowed income growth for low and middle class income earners. This is because their poor conditions encourage households to borrow beyond their means to maintain their consumption needs. This overleveraging as a result of social inequality can result in severe household financial crises. Moreover, increased inequality can result in reduced aggregate demand because the rich have low propensities to consume than the poor people.
Inequality poses a great impact on the children of affected families’ development both mentally and physically. Some of these impacts include high infant mortality rate and increase in hygiene and nutrition related diseases such as dysentery, cholera and tuberculosis. As an example, poverty which is a direct consequence of social inequality causes malnutrition which in turn affects the child’s mental and bodily development. Furthermore, inequality leaves young children vulnerable to homelessness. And because inequality is a difficult-to-end phenomenon, it gradually makes the poor poorer. This can be detrimental to a country’s economy because poor children will not only get enough food, but will also not receive sufficient education (Tischler & Hunter, 2010).
Social inequality can also result in increased risks for war, mass migrations of people, genocides and terrorisms. Countries that are unable to keep up with the global economy lack the necessary raw materials and markets. They can easily turn into wars as a way of obtaining raw materials for their industries. In the face of a country’s increasing social inequalities, the people may seek to migrate to areas with stable economies. Wide scale migration can undermine a country’s ability to recuperate from the effects of social inequality.