Study finds a link between income and experience of physical pain, suggesting that a lower income rank is linked to a higher likelihood of experiencing pain

How does income affect your experience or likelihood of experiencing physical pain? Dr Lucía Macchia, Lecturer in Psychology at City, University of London, has investigated this very question.

Macchia analysed Annual World Gallup Poll (GWP), across the years 2009-18, made up of 1.3 million adult survey respondents across 146 countries in this study.

Using the worldwide polling data, Macchia found that a person’s income rank relative to their peers is linked to their experience of physical pain. Those receiving a lower income rank are linked to a higher likelihood of experiencing pain. This study is revolutionary because it is the first time such a relationship has been identified.

‘Income rank and pain are linked around the world’

Macchia explains: “This is the first study that shows that income rank and pain are linked around the world. It suggests that psychological factors related to the well-known phenomenon of social comparison may influence people’s physical pain.”

Regardless of whether individual life in a rich or poor country, the link persists, and to the same degree, says Macchia.

What is income rank?

Income rank gives an indication of a person’s absolute personal income amount in society. Essentially, the higher the position in the list, the higher the income rank.

How do negative emotions play a role in your experience of physical pain?

The study suggests that negative emotions, related to their appraisal of a lower income rank person comparing themselves to higher income ranking peers, is significant.

Macchia believes that this may be linked to the Relative Deprivation theory and Social Comparison theory.

Nine million people experience chronic pain in the UK

In this particular study, the definition of pain used is the feeling that people experience when their body hurts regardless of the presence of physical damage.

In fact, physical pain is a major cause for concern in the UK and is actually one of the main reasons people visit the accident and emergency room in the UK.

To put an approximate figure on chronic pain, nine million people live with chronic pain in the UK and musculoskeletal pain alone accounts for 30% of the country’s medical consultations.

Even more concerningly, physical pain has been increasing dramatically in the last decades, which is why understanding your experience of physical pain is vital.


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