income inequality, social capital, relative income hypothesis, structural equation model, property crime, mortality, poverty, education


An interdisciplinary approach to policy and governance recognizes that many social welfare problems are interrelated, and policy-makers have long recognized a need to address the root causes of these problems. There is much evidence that income inequality is one of these root causes but research suggesting the effect of income inequality is mediated by social capital has complicated the relationship, as have theories of causality that take different approaches. This study takes an ecological approach to these issues to test the relationship between income inequality, social capital and selected adverse outcomes proposed by the relative income hypothesis. The relative income hypothesis posits that the impact of income inequality on adverse outcomes is mediated by social capital. The study used a retrospective cross-sectional design to analyze county-level data for the year 2000 with a structural equation model composed of three constructs: income inequality, modeled by four common measures; a social capital construct based on a model developed by Rupasingha, Goetz and Freshwater (2006); and an adverse outcomes construct designed as a parsimonious measure of social outcomes in four public affairs disciplinary areas. The test of the path presumed by the relative income hypothesis revealed both a direct effect of income inequality and indirect effect of inequality through social capital. However, the direct effect of income inequality on outcomes was significantly larger than the indirect effect, indicating the relationship is moderated, rather than mediated, by social capital. Since the impact of social capital on the selected adverse outcomes was relatively small, and the final model failed to achieve statistical significance, the relative income hypothesis that income inequality exerts its primary effect on outcomes through social capital was rejected.


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Graduation Date



Wan, Thomas T. H.


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Health and Public Affairs

Degree Program

Public Affairs








Release Date

August 2010

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)