Do wealth and inequality associate with health in a small-scale subsistence society?

  1. Adrian V Jaeggi  Is a corresponding author
  2. Aaron D Blackwell  Is a corresponding author
  3. Christopher von Rueden
  4. Benjamin C Trumble
  5. Jonathan Stieglitz
  6. Angela R Garcia
  7. Thomas Kraft
  8. Bret A Beheim
  9. Paul L Hooper
  10. Hillard Kaplan
  11. Michael D Gurven
  1. University of Zurich, Switzerland
  2. Washington State University, United States
  3. University of Richmond, United States
  4. Arizona State University, United States
  5. Universite Toulouse 1 Capitole, France
  6. University of California, Santa Barbara, United States
  7. Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany
  8. University of New Mexico, United States
  9. Chapman University, United States

Abstract

In high-income countries, one's relative socio-economic position and economic inequality may affect health and well-being, arguably via psychosocial stress. We tested this in a small-scale subsistence society, the Tsimane, by associating relative household wealth (n=871) and community-level wealth inequality (n=40, Gini = 0.15 – 0.53) with a range of psychological variables, stressors, and health outcomes (depressive symptoms [n=670], social conflicts [n=401], non-social problems [n=398], social support [n=399], cortisol [n=811], BMI [n=9926], blood pressure [n=3195], self-rated health [n=2523], morbidities [n=1542]) controlling for community-average wealth, age, sex, household size, community size, and distance to markets. Wealthier people largely had better outcomes while inequality associated with more respiratory disease, a leading cause of mortality. Greater inequality and lower wealth were associated with higher blood pressure. Psychosocial factors didn't mediate wealth-health associations. Thus, relative socio-economic position and inequality may affect health across diverse societies, though this is likely exacerbated in high-income countries.

Data availability

All data and R code are available at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4567498 with any updates at https://github.com/adblackwell/wealthinequality

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Adrian V Jaeggi

    Institute of Evolutionary Medicine, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
    For correspondence
    adrian.jaeggi@iem.uzh.ch
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-1695-0388
  2. Aaron D Blackwell

    Department of Anthropology, Washington State University, Pulman, United States
    For correspondence
    aaron.blackwell@wsu.edu
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-5871-9865
  3. Christopher von Rueden

    Jepson School of Leadership Studies, University of Richmond, Richmond, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  4. Benjamin C Trumble

    School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  5. Jonathan Stieglitz

    Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, Universite Toulouse 1 Capitole, Toulouse, France
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-5985-9643
  6. Angela R Garcia

    Center for Evolution & Medicine, Arizona State University, Tempe, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-6685-5533
  7. Thomas Kraft

    Department of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  8. Bret A Beheim

    Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  9. Paul L Hooper

    Anthropology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  10. Hillard Kaplan

    Chapman University, Orange, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  11. Michael D Gurven

    Department of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-5661-527X

Funding

Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen Forschung (PBZHP3-133443)

  • Adrian V Jaeggi

National Science Foundation (BCS0136274)

  • Hillard Kaplan

National Science Foundation (BCS0422690)

  • Michael D Gurven

National Institutes of Health (R01AG024119)

  • Hillard Kaplan
  • Michael D Gurven

National Institutes of Health (RF1AG054442)

  • Hillard Kaplan
  • Michael D Gurven

National Institutes of Health (R56AG024119)

  • Hillard Kaplan
  • Michael D Gurven

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Ethics

Human subjects: Institutional Review Board approval was granted by UNM (HRRC # 07-157) and UCSB (# 3-16- 0766), as was informed consent at three levels: (1) Tsimane government that oversees research projects, (2) village leaders and community meetings, and (3) study participants.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Milagros Ruiz

Publication history

  1. Received: May 29, 2020
  2. Accepted: May 10, 2021
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: May 14, 2021 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: June 24, 2021 (version 2)

Copyright

© 2021, Jaeggi et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.

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  1. Adrian V Jaeggi
  2. Aaron D Blackwell
  3. Christopher von Rueden
  4. Benjamin C Trumble
  5. Jonathan Stieglitz
  6. Angela R Garcia
  7. Thomas Kraft
  8. Bret A Beheim
  9. Paul L Hooper
  10. Hillard Kaplan
  11. Michael D Gurven
(2021)
Do wealth and inequality associate with health in a small-scale subsistence society?
eLife 10:e59437.
https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.59437
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    Background:

    Master athletes (MAs) prove that preserving a high level of physical function up to very late in life is possible, but the mechanisms responsible for their high function remain unclear.

    Methods:

    We performed muscle biopsies in 15 octogenarian world-class track and field MAs and 14 non-athlete age/sex-matched controls (NA) to provide insights into mechanisms for preserving function in advanced age. Muscle samples were assessed for respiratory compromised fibers, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) copy number, and proteomics by liquid-chromatography mass spectrometry.

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    MA exhibited markedly better performance on clinical function tests and greater cross-sectional area of the vastus lateralis muscle. Proteomics analysis revealed marked differences, where most of the ~800 differentially represented proteins in MA versus NA pertained to mitochondria structure/function such as electron transport capacity (ETC), cristae formation, mitochondrial biogenesis, and mtDNA-encoded proteins. In contrast, proteins from the spliceosome complex and nuclear pore were downregulated in MA. Consistent with proteomics data, MA had fewer respiratory compromised fibers, higher mtDNA copy number, and an increased protein ratio of the cristae-bound ETC subunits relative to the outer mitochondrial membrane protein voltage-dependent anion channel. There was a substantial overlap of proteins overrepresented in MA versus NA with proteins that decline with aging and that are higher in physically active than sedentary individuals. However, we also found 176 proteins related to mitochondria that are uniquely differentially expressed in MA.

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    We conclude that high function in advanced age is associated with preserving mitochondrial structure/function proteins, with underrepresentation of proteins involved in the spliceosome and nuclear pore complex. Whereas many of these differences in MA appear related to their physical activity habits, others may reflect unique biological (e.g., gene, environment) mechanisms that preserve muscle integrity and function with aging.

    Funding:

    Funding for this study was provided by operating grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (MOP 84408 to TT and MOP 125986 to RTH). This work was supported in part by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute on Aging, NIH, Baltimore, MD, USA.