A Silver Lining: Economic Bust Is a Health Boom

By Brett Israel | September 29, 2009 3:59 pm

depression_webOne thing we might have to look forward to should we fall deeper into a recession—a boost in public health. Americans were healthier during the Great Depression than the stronger economic periods surrounding the slump, according to a surprising new study.

Researchers studied life expectancies, mortality rates, GDP, and unemployment rates from 1920 to 1940. The team found an inverse association between economic health and population health: Life expectancy fell during economic upturns and increased during recessions. Mortality, meanwhile, tended to rise during economic upturns and fall during recessions. Deaths related to flu and pneumonia, for example, fell from about 150 per 100,000 people in 1929 to roughly 100 per 100,000 people in 1930, the researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [ScienceNOW Daily News].

The researchers won’t say for sure why this is, but they offer several theories. When the economy is growing, people tend to sleep less and smoke and drink more. They also engage in more strenuous labor, endure more work stress and breathe more polluted air. Traffic and industrial accidents rise [Los Angeles Times]. The one exception, of course, is suicides. As times get harder suicides go up, but during the time period studied they accounted for less than 2 percent of all deaths.

Related Content:
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80beats: What Does the Economic Crisis Mean for the Green Tech Sector?

Image: flickr / Tony the Misfit

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • tomulcak

    why does this STUPID article keep popping up. the study is questionable and the conclusions drawn are laughable. This is pseudo-science at its worst.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    tomulcak: What are your criticisms of the study?

  • ZZZ

    Another important reason why being better off harms health is because of the food you eat. When you’re wealthy, you eat more red meat and fat.


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