Kate Pickett is Professor of Epidemiology in the Department of Health Sciences. She is a member of the Health Inequalities Research Group and joint author of The Spirit Level: Why more equal societies almost always do better. She is also a National Institute for Health Research Career Scientist and a Fellow of the RSA.
York’s researchers set out to do no less than reshape British society, improving the quality of life for all of us. Professor Kate Pickett this year published a raft of new evidence demonstrating that more equal societies – that is, societies with a smaller gap between rich and poor – perform better on a whole range of health and social indicators, including physical and mental health, education, levels of violent crime, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, childhood wellbeing, and social mobility.
Drawing on many years of combined research experience, Professor Pickett’s new book The Spirit Level: Why more equal societies almost always do better was co-written with Professor Richard Wilkinson. The book’s detailed comparisons of more and less equal societies reveals a consistent correlation between inequality and other societal problems. Professors Pickett and Wilkinson compared societies with the most inequality – Portugal, US and the UK – to those where the gap between rich and poor is smallest – Japan and Sweden. They also compared the more and less equal American states and found exactly the same pattern.
Startlingly, the impact of inequality is not only on the poorest people in society, but affects the better-off as well. For instance, even wealthier people in unequal societies are more likely to suffer from mental illnesses, work long hours, get into debt, and die younger than their counterparts elsewhere. Conclusion: to tackle all these problems, focus first on economic inequality.
The impact of Professor Pickett’s work is already being felt across the social sciences and beyond. She has been instrumental in launching the Equality Trust, a new organisation, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, dedicated to campaigning for greater social equality, to coincide with the publication of The Spirit Level earlier this year. Backed by the strength of research evidence gathered at York, the Trust’s ambitious goals are to educate people about inequality, change public opinion and harness political will to bring about a more equal society.
A review in the Sunday Times described The Spirit Level as “a book with a big idea, big enough to change political thinking”. Together with Professor Wilkinson, Professor Pickett’s work was shortlisted for Research Project of the Year in the 2009 Times Higher Education Awards.
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