Recessions may be good for your health: study

Mon Sep 28, 2009 8:01pm EDT
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Economic downturns may not be good for your bottom line but they might be a boon to your health, according to a study on health trends during the 20 years around the Great Depression.

Researchers from the University of Michigan found U.S. life expectancy increased by 6 years between 1929 and 1932, from 57 to 63, with the increase occurring for both men and women and for whites and non-whites.

The number of deaths from disease, accidents and infant mortality during the Great Depression also fell.

"The finding is strong and counterintuitive," said researcher Jose Tapia Granados from the university's Institute for Social Research. "Most people assume that periods of high unemployment are harmful to health."

The findings, published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, add to previous research showing correlations between economic woes and health improvements in various countries.

This study, which covered the period from 1920 to 1940, found the health of the population generally improved during the four years of the Great Depression and during recessions in 1921 and 1938.

But mortality increased and life expectancy declined during periods of strong economic expansion, such as 1923, 1926, 1929, and 1936-1937.

The study did not look at the reasons why this was the case but Tapia Granados suggested that it may be because times of economic expansion have been linked to increases in smoking and drinking, as well as less sleep and more stress.

"During expansions, firms are very busy, and they typically demand a lot of effort from employees, who are required to work a lot of overtime, and to work at a fast pace. This can create stress, which is associated with more drinking and smoking," he said in a statement.   Continued...

<p>A job seeker makes a phone call to a potential employer at The Work Place, which provides comprehensive employment and career services in Boston, Massachusetts July 2, 2009. U.S. REUTERS/Brian Snyder</p>