Money and resources
There is a well-established link between money and resources and variations in health. Poverty in particular – and persistent poverty especially – is associated with worse health
Why money and resources matter for health
There is a strong relationship between money and resources (such as income or wealth) and health. We all need financial resources for most areas of life, including those that influence our health.
People on the lowest incomes (the bottom 40% of the income distribution) are more than twice as likely to say they have poor health than people on the highest incomes (the top 20%), and more than 5 times as likely to say they have bad or very bad health. Poverty in particular is associated with worse health, especially persistent poverty.
Explore the different ways in which money and resources can affect health:
The persistence of financial strain matters for health, because people facing persistent financial strain endure worse health. The damage caused by such strain can build up throughout life, lowering someone’s resistance to illness.
Financial or economic strain can be measured by looking at income or debt, but generally refers to financial pressure or inadequate financial resources. This may include debt or being unable to meet day-to-day living costs. This financial strain can be a source of stress and can eventually harm physiological health.
Not having sufficient financial resources to manage these stresses can worsen the consequences. For example, people in any socioeconomic circumstances could be caring for a relative with a long-term health condition but the consequences may be greater for people with either lower incomes or less flexible employment.
Poverty – defined as having inadequate resources to meet basic human needs – is associated with worse health. In childhood, poverty is associated with worse outcomes in infant mortality, low birth weight, obesity, asthma, tooth decay and accidental death. It is also associated with worse health outcomes in adulthood, such as premature mortality, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Not having enough income to sustain a basic standard of living affects health in several ways, including being unable to heat their homes or access healthy foods. Other factors that can directly harm health include low-quality housing and the lack of opportunity to participate fully in society.
The stress of living on a low income can also eventually affect someone’s health, as highlighted in the section on financial strain as a source of stress.
Poverty can also affect health through relative deprivation, which is the stress associated with lacking the goods, services and status of mainstream society. This can affect health, even if someone meets a basic standard of living, by acting as a chronic source of stress that eventually has physiological effects.
Research suggests that any exposure to poverty in childhood, compared with no experience of poverty, is associated with worse health. Persistent poverty is associated with even worse outcomes, such as obesity, mental ill health and long-term illness. The number of episodes of poverty accumulated over a person’s life is also associated with worse health.
People with a low income are more likely on average to engage in unhealthy behaviours, such as smoking, high alcohol consumption, inactivity, high calorie intake and not taking advantage of preventive health services. There is evidence that unhealthy behaviours compound the relationship between stress and ill health, and the range of stressors associated with low income may encourage people to drink, smoke or reduce exercise to cope with these pressures.
There is also a link between the perceived permanence of income and healthier behaviours. Adopting healthier behaviours relies on someone having a perceived sustained improvement in prospects – a short-lived income boost is not enough. The financial cost of some activities or goods is also a recurrent barrier to healthier behaviours.