Purpose – In recent decades, research across the social sciences has linked higher income inequality to poorer health and social outcomes in advanced market democracies. According to general theories, this relationship is mediated by social cohesion; an absence of which is said to be the cause behind such poor outcomes. This article aims to examine the first step in this theory by exploring whether there is an empirical relationship between income inequality and social cohesion. Design/methodology/approach – To achieve this, social cohesion is operationalized as 18 variables across six unique dimensions of social cohesion. Subsequently, the relationship between each variable and inequality is tested in a range of statistical models that include two measures of income inequality, numerous control variables and a range of different country samples. Findings – The relationship between inequality and social cohesion is found to be problematic, with significant associations for some dimensions but not for others. Further, the relationship between social cohesion and inequality is dependent on the measure of inequality used, whether other variables are controlled for and the number of countries in the sample. To explain this paradox, a distinction is made between “horizontal” and “vertical” social relations. Originality/value – This article argues that research into the health and social effects of income inequality has thus far largely failed to address the causal mechanisms by which negative outcomes are purportedly produced. By empirically examining the links between inequality and one of these hypothesized mechanisms, social cohesion, it is shown that there are relationships between inequality and some dimensions of social cohesion, but not between others. This suggests that the income inequality-social cohesion hypothesis is more complex than has hitherto been implied.
|Journal||International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy|
|Publication status||Published - 2013|