Richard studied economic history and the philosophy of science at the London School of Economics before training in epidemiology.
From the 1970s onwards, his research focused on of social class differences in death rates. He has played a formative role in international research on the social determinants of health and on the societal effects of income inequality. His early research on class differences in death rates resulted in David Ennals, the Labour Secretary of State for Health and Social Services, setting up the inquiry into health inequalities which produced the Black Report. Since then, his books and papers have drawn attention to the tendency for societies with bigger income differences between rich and poor to have a higher prevalence of a wide range of health and social problems. Two of his books have been the subject of documentary films – one called The Great Leveller for the Channel 4 TV’s Equinox series broadcast in prime time in 1996 (to coincide with the publication of his Unhealthy Societies) and another, called The Divide (based on The Spirit Level) released in April 2016 and now available on Netflix.
Richard is now Professor Emeritus of Social Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham Medical School, Honorary Professor at University College London and Visiting Professor at the University of York. He wrote The Spirit Level with Kate Pickett, a best seller now available in 24 languages. It won the 2011 Political Studies Association Publication of the Year Award and the 2010 Bristol Festival of Ideas Prize. He co-founded The Equality Trust (with support from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust). In 2013 Richard received Solidar’s Silver Rose Award and Community Access Unlimited’s ‘Humanitarian of the Year’ Award. The Irish Cancer Society awarded him its 2014 Charles Cully Memorial medal, and he was the 2017 medalist of The Australian Society for Medical Research.
In the last few years he has given many hundreds of conference addresses and media interviews round the world, including at WHO, the EU, OECD and the World Bank. On various web sites his TED talk has been viewed over 3 million times.