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In 2009, British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett published "The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Strong", in which they argue that severely unequal societies produce high rates of ‘social pain”: adverse outcomes including school drop out, teen pregnancy, mental health problems, lack of social trust, high mortality rates, violence and crime, low social participation. Their volume challenges the belief that the extent of poverty in a community predicts negative outcomes. They assert instead that the size of the inequality gap defines the material and psychological contours of the chasm between the wealthiest and the most impoverished, enabling various forms of social suffering to saturate a community, appearing natural. In societies with large gaps, one finds rampant State and socially reproduced disregard, dehumanization, policy neglect and abuse. As you might guess, the income inequality gap of the US ranks the highest in their international comparisons. Furthermore, New York State ranks the highest among other states and a recent report published by the United Nations (UN-HABITAT, 2008) has found New York City to rank as one of the highest among other major cities in the country. Moving these notions into social psychology, we have been studying what we call circuits of dispossession and privilege (Fine & Ruglis, 2009) as they affect the uneven distribution of social health among privileged and marginalized youth in New York City.


This article was originally published in The European Health Psychologist, available at



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