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Keywords:

  • life expectancy, under-five mortality, comparative health;
  • public health policy;
  • International Relations and International Political Economy—General;
  • Economic Development, Technological Change, and Growth—Economic Development—General

SUMMARY

Objectives

There has been an attention to inequality as a causal factor for deficient health in the medical journals over the last decades (Richard G. Wilkinson et al. and Schnell et al.); however, the reasons for inequality and the interactions of the underlying causes of inequality at the level of the world economy have not yet been properly explored in this kind of literature. The aim of this article is to provide a new, globalization-oriented, multi-disciplinary perspective on life expectancy, under-five mortality, inequality and socio-economic development in the world system, compatible with the advances in international sociological research on the subject over the last three decades.

Design

Taking up the traditions of quantitative sociology to study the effects of multinational corporation (MNC) penetration as a key determining variable for development outcomes such as socio-economic inequality and infant mortality, this article analyzes from the perspective of quantitative political science and economics this particular role of MNC penetration as the key variable for the determination of health, inequality and socio-economic development in 183 countries of the world system, using international social science standard data.

Main outcomes

As correctly predicted by quantitative sociology, but largely overlooked by the medical profession, the development style, implied by a high MNC penetration of their host countries, reflects the oligopolistic power, which transnational corporations wield over local economies. We took up an idea from Austro-American economist Joseph Alois Schumpeter (1883–1950), which states that the long-term effects of oligopolistic power are negative and lead toward economic and social stagnation. Our data show that although MNC penetration indeed led to certain short-term growth effects after 1990, today, social polarization and stagnation increase as a consequence of the development model, based on high MNC penetration. There is a negative trade-off between MNC penetration and health, both in terms of life expectancy and avoiding under-five mortality. But it can be shown for the 115 countries with complete data that Richard G. Wilkinson's hypothesis still plays an important role in explaining deficient health development in the world system, once we control for the effects of MNC penetration-driven globalization. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.