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Better health but with greater income gaps – the many faces of globalization

04 November 2009 Expertsvar

Globalization can lead to better health but also to increased income inequality, depending on what kind of globalization we are talking about. Economist Therese Nilsson, Lund University School of Economics and Management in Sweden, has studied the connections between inequality, globalization, and health.

Countries are opening their borders more and more, and globalization has long been a buzzword. But globalization comes in many guises. Therese Nilsson has studied whether social, economic, and political globalization have an impact on health in different countries over time.
Economic globalization measures how much countries trade with each other and how much they invest directly in other countries, for instance. The social aspect is about how many people use the Internet, tourism, how many mass media outlets there are, how many McDonald’s and Ikeas are established – in other words, a measure of how much people in different countries interact and of cultural accord. The political side focuses on whether countries are members of the UN Security Council, the IMF, the World Bank, and how many foreign embassies there are in a country.
Looking at these different facets of globalization in relation to life expectancy is a field that few economists have studied in the past.
“The study that is co-authored with economist Andreas Bergh shows that economic globalization increases life expectancy. The positive effect is found in both high- and low-income countries that have chosen to become more globalized. Trade, which provides us with access to a broader variety of goods, but also education and the number of physicians may be some factors through which globalization can affect health,” says Therese Nilsson.
“On the other hand, there are no health effects from social globalization. We can speculate that this globalization, including access to the Internet, should lead to enhanced knowledge that would improve people’s health, but when people congregate it may also be that diseases such as HIV/AIDS spread more easily. These two effects may cancel each other out.”
The dissertation, Inequality, Globalization and Health, consists of four sections that treat the above-mentioned subjects from different perspectives. The data studied deal with 90 countries all over the world over the time-period 1970-2005.
The researcher also shows that liberalization and globalization can increase the economic gaps in some societies.

“Trade liberalization has a tendency to heighten income inequality in high-income countries, as do social globalization. On the other hand, the study does not indicate that income distribution in a country changes by other forms of liberalization and globalization. This is interesting, because other studies have shown that the level of economic prosperity in countries is improved by those factors.”

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