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Anticipating impacts on health based on changes in income inequality caused by life cycles



This paper presents a general impact assessment relationship, intended to contribute to the development of social life cycle analysis. This relationship and the conditions of its use are called the “Wilkinson pathway”. When used for comparisons, the pathway assesses the anticipated change in the infant mortality rate caused by a change in income distribution in the population of a country, itself generated by an important change in a life cycle.


Since the 1980s, numerous authors have examined the relationship between income inequality and human health. Without formally proving so, these studies suggest that increases in inequality have negative consequences for health. First, this effect is re-examined using the most up-to-date time series data. Econometric modelling allowed calculating the coefficients of variation of infant mortality in relation to variations in income inequality for member and non-member Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, taking into account the lag time. Then, a method to translate the effect of an important economic change in a life cycle on income distribution is proposed.

Results and discussion

The econometric estimations show that a 1 % variation in income inequality leads to an approximately equivalent variation, with a lag time of about 15 years, in infant mortality in OECD member countries. The effect is two times larger than in non-OECD member countries. Together with input-output data, labour productivity and average wages in different economic sectors, this information makes it possible to quantify the probable effects of an important change in the life cycle production stage on income inequality and then infant mortality. Due to data constraints and the many assumptions made, the tools and results presented here should be used and interpreted cautiously. Above all, what is involved is a comparative method. An isolated result must not be interpreted in absolute terms.


This work is in line with efforts to formalize general pathways allowing a comparison of socioeconomic impacts linked to various important changes in the production stage of life cycles. There are diverse prospects for improvement. A challenge for further research will be to propose methods enabling assessments of the socioeconomic impacts generated in life cycle stages other than production.

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  1. To compare means that one will rank the alternatives obtained rather than interpret the quantified results of an alternative itself.

  2. Jean-Michel Couture: Groupe AGECO, oral communication at Comité 21’s meeting, September 2013.




  6. Mean labour productivity is calculated for full-time equivalent positions.

  7. These are available for most developed countries and for numerous developing countries from agencies such as OECD and Eurostat or directly from national statistics institutes.


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The authors warmly thank the members of the ELSA team in Montpellier and the CIRAIG social LCA team at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM) for their comments on previous versions of the paper. This research was funded in Montpellier by the Institut national de recherche en sciences et technologies pour l’environnement et l’agriculture (IRSTEA) and by the Chaire industrielle sur l'évaluation environnementale et sociale du cycle de vie pour améliorer la compétitivité des entreprises par la transition écologique et sociale (ELSA-PACT), and in Montreal by the Chaire internationale sur le cycle de vie Polytechnique Montréal/UQÀM.

The authors also warmly thank the editor of the journal and the two reviewers of the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment for their comments and propositions based on the first version of the article submitted.

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Correspondence to Ibrahima Bocoum.

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Responsible editor: Alessandra Zamagni

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Bocoum, I., Macombe, C. & Revéret, JP. Anticipating impacts on health based on changes in income inequality caused by life cycles. Int J Life Cycle Assess 20, 405–417 (2015).

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  • Employment
  • Impact pathways
  • Income inequality
  • Infant mortality
  • Production
  • Social LCA
  • Supply chain