Incarceration and Population Health in Wealthy Democracies

Christopher Wildeman, University of Michigan

This article considers the relationship between incarceration and population health using panel data from 21 wealthy democracies (1981-2005). Results support three conclusions. First, when the United States is included in the analysis, the incarceration rate is negatively associated with life expectancy (but not the infant mortality rate). Based on point estimates from these models, American life expectancy would have been 1.5 years longer in 2005 had the incarceration rate remained at the 1981 level, suggesting that mass incarceration may have substantial effects on population health. Second, when the United States is excluded, increases in the incarceration rate are associated with decreases in the infant mortality rate, suggesting that incarceration may promote population health outside of the United States. Finally, results from models predicting age-specific effects suggest that increases in the incarceration rate may diminish the mortality risks of young men.

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Presented in Session 96: Comparative Health and Mortality in High-Income Countries