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Is economic growth good for population health? A critical review

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population health, economic growth, economic policy, political economy, public health

Abstract (summary)

A large multidisciplinary literature discusses the relationship between economic growth and population health. The idea that economic growth is good for societies has inspired extensive academic debate, but conclusions have been mixed. To help shed light on the subject, this paper focuses on opportunities for consensus in this large literature. Much scholarship finds that the health-growth relationship varies according to (1) which aspect of “health” is under consideration, (2) shape (e.g., positive linear or logarithmic), (3) issues of timing (e.g., growth over the short or long term), (4) a focus on health inequalities as opposed to population averages, and (5) multivariable relationships with additional factors. After reflecting upon these findings, I propose that economic growth promotes health in some respects, for some countries, and in conjunction with other life-supporting priorities, but does not by itself improve population health generally speaking. I then argue there is already wide, interdisciplinary consensus to support this stance. Moreover, policies focusing exclusively on economic growth threaten harm to both population health and growth, which is to say that political dynamics are also implicated. Yet multivariable approaches can help clarify the bigger picture of how growth relates to health. For moving this literature forward, the best opportunities may involve the simultaneous analysis of multiple factors. The recognition of consensus around these issues would be welcome, and timely.

Publication Information

Patterson, A. C. (2023). Is Economic Growth Good for Population Health? A Critical Review. Canadian Studies in Population 50, 1 (2023).


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