CM 086: Keith Payne on the Surprising Effects of Feeling Unequal

Blog Post - KeithMost of us are aware of the negative effects of income inequality on health and well-being. But few of us realize that just seeing yourself as unequal can produce the same results.

Keith Payne, author of the book, The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live, and Die, and Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is an international leader in the psychology of inequality and discrimination, and his work has been featured in The Atlantic, The New York Times and on NPR. His research helps us understand how inequality is the public health problem of the 21st century.

In this interview we discuss:

  • How we see ourselves compared to others is a better predictor of health and well-being than income and education
  • How inequality is a better predictor of drug use, health outcomes, crime, and other self-defeating behaviors than poverty in advanced economies
  • The false dichotomy of blaming the system or the individual when it comes to understanding inequality rather than understanding how individuals respond to their environments
  • How bees engaged in high risk, high reward behavior after they lost some of their honey supply and how this mirrors how humans behave when they have less
  • How people living in areas of greater inequality search Google on more high risk, high reward topics like payday loans and lottery tickets
  • Why how we feel about our status in relation to others can have a greater impact on how we vote than our actual status
  • How the poor do not actually tend to vote against their own self interest — how there is more to that story than meets the eye
  • The fact that there is a strong correlation between the rise in income inequality and the rise in political partisanship
  • The fact that parts of the world with greater equality are less religious
  • How pay incentives works well for individual performers but less so for collaboration and teams
  • Does your organization value teamwork and collaboration? Then think twice about incentivizing individuals with big payouts for performance.
  • How we often overlook the fact that inequality is driven more by the wealthiest than by the poorest
  • How solving the problem of inequality by adopting a public health mindset can help develop bigger, more impactful solutions
  • How moving to a zip code with less inequality can potentially have a more positive impact on future outcomes than moving to a wealthier zip code

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