Neoliberalism and Life Expectancy: A Study in the Political Economy of Population Health

Ross Macmillan, Università Bocconi
Keiti Kondi, Università Bocconi

Recent decades have seen nation states increasingly adopt neoliberal social policies, policies that stress free markets in the provision of social welfares, localization of services, and more minimalist government. While the rise of neoliberalism has spawned extensive critique, there exists an almost universal view that neoliberalism is detrimental for population health. At the same time, empirical evidence is quite weak, limited in scope, and ultimately equivocal. This paper conducts a unique and powerful assessment of the relationship between neoliberalism and life expectancy through both trend analysis and complementary fixed-effects analyses of data from the Human Mortality Database (ca. 1970-2009) and World Health Organization life tables (1990, 2000, & 2009). Contrary to conventional wisdom, there is little evidence that life expectancy is compromised with neoliberalism and some evidence that it is enhanced, particularly in low income countries. Implications for theory and research on socio-political conditions and population health are discussed.

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Presented in Session 93: Health and Mortality Effects of Macro Social, Economic, and Technological Change