Health and Income Mobility
How income mobility contributes to health disparities
with Alberto Palloni
Recent research on U.S. income mobility and health using community and individual data shows that higher mobility is associated with lower mortality risks. That relationship seems to be stronger and more consistent than the relationship between income inequality and health (a topic widely studied), although considerably smaller than the impact of income on mortality. This preliminary evidence suggests that income mobility might be a relevant determinant of health and mortality. Surprisingly, this potential pathway has received little attention in the literature.
My dissertation builds on that small literature and examines the robustness of the relationship between income mobility and health at the aggregate and individual level. By using different data sources and modeling approaches, I describe the magnitude and variability of this association in the U.S., and explore the plausibility and consistency of explanations offered in the literature. The central argument is that the effect of income mobility on health is stronger and larger than the impact of income inequality and that the mechanisms behind it, although related to income inequality, are theoretically distinct and independent of those of income and inequality, and can have powerful and lasting consequences.
To ground this argument, I use two strategies. First, I analyze aggregate and individual data to assess the magnitude, robustness, and variability of the effects of income mobility, and empirically examine whether some of the potential pathways and mechanisms proposed in the literature are supported by the data. Secondly, building on this evidence, I use a theoretical model to assess the conditions and plausibility of the potential mechanisms involved in the association between income mobility and health. By formulating a generative model, where I precisely define (represent) a set of mechanisms (causal relationships) likely to bring about the observed patterns, I am able to assess the internal consistency of the theory and evaluate its generative sufficiency.