“The community which has neither poverty nor riches will always have the noblest principles.” – Plato
Recently, for an Aging and Social Policy class, we were assigned to view various TED Talks and reflect on the messages contained in these presentations. One particular presentation by Richard Wilkinson titled, How Economic Inequality Harms Societies, made me reflect deeply on how inequality connects to health and wellness. As I had mentioned in an earlier post, the usual factors that contribute to wellness in aging include social support, diet and exercise, stress management, and genetics. But, Wilkinson reveals data suggesting that economic inequality within a country affects a host of issues including literacy, health, mental illness, crime, infant mortality, and life expectancy! We don’t often discuss the far-reaching effects of inequality in everyday conversations (although I believe more people are discussing this issue today).
Watching Wilkinson's presentation made me think about a cultural anthropology project in school from two years ago. For the project, I interviewed an American elder and a Japanese elder to understand cultural differences in experiences and attitudes toward life, aging and happiness.
When I asked the Japanese elder, Chika* (75 years old), what she believed was a vital ingredient to happiness and well-being, she answered, “Not having many differences in financial status is the most important aspect to well-being.” This was not an answer I expected to hear, but it left a lasting impression.
|My mother and my brother.|
Chika elaborated by stating that financial disparities lead to both real and perceived social disparities, which is one of the greatest sources of unhappiness for people. Chika was an atomic bomb survivor from Hiroshima and talked about how everyone was extremely poor after the War, yet there was unity in spirit. Position and status mattered very little. In discussing her present circumstances, Chika expressed gratitude for being able to live in Northern California, an area rich with a wide variety of resources. She stated, “There are so many problems in this world, but we are all very lucky to be here.” Nonetheless, Chika believes that the growing income gap between people in the U.S. is contributing to an unhappier, unhealthier society.
Her comment makes sense to me today as I study aging and social policies in school, and work with older adults who live well below the poverty level. Thus, I see the adverse effects of inequality in the lives of many older adults. So…I would like to know what you think about this topic? Do you agree that inequality is as damaging as suggested? Would love to hear your thoughts, and as always, thank you for visiting my blog!
*Chika is a pseudonym