Recessions: Good or Bad for Your Health?

The studies are mixed. So is the reasoning. On the one hand, a downturn increases stress (thought to be bad for health). Also, with less income, people find health care less affordable. On the other hand, a Tara Parker-Hope article in The New York Times says:

Economic studies suggest that people tend not to take care of themselves in boom times – drinking too much (especially before driving), dining on fat-laden restaurant meals and skipping exercise and doctors' appointments because of work-related time commitments.

"The value of time is higher during good economic times," said Grant Miller, an assistant professor of medicine at Stanford. "So people work more and do less of the things that are good for them, like cooking at home and exercising; and people experience more stress due to the rigors of hard work during booms."

A study [gated, but with abstract] by University of North Carolina professor Christopher J. Ruhm concludes:

  • An increase of one percentage point in state unemployment rates correlated with a 0.5 percentage point decline in the death rate – or about 5 fewer deaths per 100,000 people.
  • Overall, the death rate fell by more than 8 percent in a 20-year period of mostly economic decline, led by drops in heart disease and car crashes.

I'm attaching some contradictory evidence as a comment.

Comments (4)

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  1. John C. Goodman says:

    In a USA Today op-ed piece, professor Marc Siegel writes this:

    Tales of traders suddenly throwing themselves out of windows on Wall Street in the wake of the 1929 crash that was the precursor to the Great Depression were largely myths, as John Kenneth Galbraith noted in his 1955 account. But millions did turn to drinking and smoking in greater numbers, which led to heart attacks, strokes, bleeding ulcers and clinical depression.

    And this:

    Research based on 17 years of Pennsylvania unemployment records concluded that workers affected by mass layoffs at a plant were 15% more likely to die of any cause over the next two decades.

  2. Devon Herrick says:

    Here is Christopher Ruhm in yesterday’s New York Times article on the same subject:

    People are physically healthier in times of recession….Death rates fall, people smoke less, drink less and exercise more. Traffic fatalities go way down, which is not a surprise when people drive less. Heart attacks go down. Back problems go down. People have more time to prepare healthier meals at home. When the economy weakens, pollution falls.

  3. Greg says:

    If Ruhm is right it means there is a silver lining in recessions — although they probably should be avoided for other reasons.

  4. claudette coulanges says: