The Psychological Toll of Income Inequality

The NY Times as a new piece on the psychological toll of income inequality and our relentless pursuit of “more”. We are making ourselves sick…and for what?

Here’s an excerpt:

“Ms. Johnson concludes that psychiatric conditions like mania and narcissism are related to our striving for status and dominance, while disorders such as anxiety and depression may involve responses to the experience of subordination. Similarly, she suggests that the pressures of coping with social hierarchies may contribute to other conditions such as antisocial personality disorder and bipolarism.     ….

“If mental illness is related to dominance and subordination, you might assume that disorders like narcissism would be more common at the top of the social hierarchy while others, like depression, would occur more frequently at the bottom. The full picture, however, is more complicated.

It is true that depression is much more common lower down the social ladder, but it does exists at all levels: Few are immune to feelings of defeat or failure. Similarly, people can be narcissistic or strive for dominance anywhere in the hierarchy — although Paul Piff, also a psychologist at Berkeley, has shown that higher status is indeed associated with more unethical and narcissistic behavior.

“So how does increasing inequality factor in? One of the important effects of wider income differences between rich and poor is to intensify the issues of dominance and subordination, and feelings of superiority and inferiority. Two sociologists at the University of Toronto, Robert Andersen and Josh Curtis, found that although there is always some connection between people’s income and the social class to which they feel they belong, the match between the two is closer in societies with bigger income differences between rich and poor.

Inequality not only intensifies the problem, but also makes it more extensive. A new study by Dublin-based researchers of 34,000 people in 31 countries found that in countries with bigger income differences, status anxiety was more common at all levels in the social hierarchy. Another international study, from 2011, found in particular that self-enhancement or self-aggrandizement — the tendency to present an inflated view of oneself — occurred much more frequently in more unequal societies.”

Read the full article here:

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