Decreasing income inequality and adolescent emotional distress: a population-based case study of Icelandic adolescents 2006–2016

  • Arndis VilhjalmsdottirEmail author
  • Bart De Clercq
  • Ragna B. Gardarsdottir
  • Jon Gunnar Bernburg
  • Inga Dora Sigfusdottir
Original Article



In this study, we aim to test whether changes in community income inequality influence adolescent emotional distress. We take advantage of the unique combination of data and history available in Iceland. This affluent welfare society has experienced extreme shifts in income inequality, allowing us to test whether changes in community income inequality are related to changes in adolescent emotional distress.


Combining adolescent survey data (n = 24,107) with tax registry data on 76 neighborhood communities, we used a multilevel approach to model the data as longitudinal in order to test whether changes in community income inequality are related to changes in symptoms of anxiety and depression among adolescents.


The results showed that, after adjusting for relevant individual and community covariates, decreases in community income inequality were associated with decreases in symptoms of anxiety among adolescents (b = − 0.367, p ≤ 0.001), but not with decreases in symptoms of depression.


While the results provide a partial support for the income inequality thesis, we call for replications from other cultures and studies exploring the mediating role of social psychological processes.


Adolescents Anxiety Depression Neighborhood communities Income inequality Change effects 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. The Youth in Iceland surveys were conducted anonymously and approved by the Icelandic Data Protection Authority ( Parents were informed about the survey and given the opportunity to withdraw their children from participation. All community-level data were prepared by Statistics Iceland and delivered in aggregated form and can therefore not be traced back to individual households. This research received funding from The Icelandic Centre for Research (Grant No. 152601-052).


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Copyright information

© Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of PsychologyUniversity of IcelandReykjavíkIceland
  2. 2.Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Department of Public Health, Academical HospitalGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  3. 3.Faculty of Social ScienceGhent UniversityReykjavíkIceland
  4. 4.School of BusinessReykjavik UniversityReykjavíkIceland

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