Discrimination and prejudice send a clear message that some people are valued more than others. This inequality of worth can be created by a number of social identifiers: money, race, class, education, disability, gender orientation, beauty, language or ethnic origin. The ones with more money, beauty, education or privilege possess more social status. Low social status causes stress, and stress leads to poor quality of life. In a series of groundbreaking epidemiological studies, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have shown the deleterious impact of inequality at the state, national, and international levels. The results can be seen in their 2018 book The inner level: How more equal societies reduce stress, restore sanity and improve everyone’s well-being.
With the tremendous rise in inequality in the last two decades, status differences have been exacerbated. As they observe, “greater inequality makes money more important as a key to status and a way of expressing your ‘worth’…. the larger the disparities in income, the bigger the differences in lifestyles which express class position, and the more invidious and conspicuous inferior status feels.” People with low economic status suffer not just from material deprivation, but from worth deprivation as well. They write that “outward wealth is so often seen as if it was a measure of inner worth. And as greater inequality makes social position more visible, we come to judge each other more by status. With more social evaluation anxieties, problems of self-esteem, self-confidence and status insecurity become more fraught.”