Study: Poverty affects health

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Feeling poverty with a greater impact on health

It has long been known that poor people are more likely to get sick and die sooner. Deficits in nutrition and medical care are cited as reasons for this. The research team led by Maja Adena from the Berlin Science Center for Social Research (WZB) and Michal Myck from the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) in Berlin and the Center for Economic Analysis in Szczecin have now investigated the connections between perceived poverty and health.

In their study, the scientists examined the effects of subjective poverty on the health of people over the age of 50 in Germany and eleven other European countries. It was based on the data from the representative population survey "Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe (SHARE)" from 2006 to 2012. The evaluation showed that the subjective feeling of poverty had an extremely far-reaching effect on the health of the test subjects, while actual Income differences appear to have hardly played a role here, reports the WZB.

Relative wealth and subjective poverty with health effects In the course of their study, the researchers differentiated between three different types of poverty (by income, by wealth and by subjective assessment) and their effects on health. Relative income poverty is the most common definition, but surprisingly, according to the researchers, there was no connection with health or life expectancy. "On the other hand, with broader definitions of poverty, such as subjective poverty or a low relative wealth, the likelihood of achieving poorer health increases and the likelihood of recovery in the analyzed period decreases," write Maja Adena and Michal Myck. In addition, the studies had shown that "the subjective feeling of poverty significantly increases the mortality rate."

Increased risk of death from perceived poverty The analysis of the data showed that older people who consider themselves poor are much more likely to get sick (38 percent) and are more likely to suffer a health setback (48 percent), reports the research team led by Adena and Myck. Furthermore, the likelihood of dying earlier was significantly increased - “by 40 percent for men in this age group,” according to the WZB. According to the researchers, the subjects' income had little influence on how healthy or sick people were in the age group examined. However, when it comes to poverty by relative wealth, the scientists found that people over the age of 50 who have little or little wealth fall ill much more often and recover more slowly after an illness.

New definitions of poverty required Overall, the study found that there was hardly any overlap between the various forms of poverty, Adena and Myck report. "According to all three definitions (income, wealth, subjective assessment), only eight percent of those questioned are considered poor." The study shows that poverty has many forms. Here the subjective feeling of poverty actually plays a significantly larger role than previously assumed in the professional world. The scientists come to the conclusion that a broader definition of poverty will be required in the future, for example, to be able to map poverty and its consequences. Income measurement should by no means only be used to measure poverty. (fp)

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