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Neo-liberalism and Life Expectancy: A Study in the Political-Economy of Population Health

24th April 2014 3pm, University of Southampton, 58/1007

Ross Macmillan, Universita Bocconi

Recent decades have seen nation states increasingly adopt neoliberal social policies, policies that stress free markets in the provision of social welfare, localization of services, and more minimalist government. While the rise of neoliberalism has spawned an extensive body of critique, there exists an almost universal view that neoliberalism is particularly detrimental for population health. Empirical evidence on the issue however is quite weak, is limited in scope, and is ultimately equivocal. This paper conducts a unique and powerful assessment of the relationship between neoliberalism and life expectancy through both trend analysis of data from the Human Mortality Database (ca. 1960-2009) and complementary fixed-effects analyses of supplemented World Bank data (1970 -2010 in five year intervals). We further assess the robustness of results by replicating the latter analyses for rates of infant mortality. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the results show little to no evidence that life expectancy or infant survival is compromised with more extensive neoliberalism and evidence that it has actually been enhanced, most so in lower income countries. Implications for theory and research on socio-political conditions and population health are discussed.