Death rates among middle- aged and older people in Ireland are lower when the economy is growing than when it's heading for recession, according to a new international analysis.
The trend is in direct contrast to the findings in several other countries in a new study published in the 'Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health'.
It found that generally when economies were expanding, death rates increased for both middle-aged and older people, but they fell when economies were heading for recession. However, Ireland bucked the trend.
Researcher Herbert Rolden of the Leyden Academy on Vitality and Ageing, in Leiden, the Netherlands, said: "We were very surprised to see that in developed countries more older people die during economic growth.
"We argue that older people receive less informal care and social support from younger family members and friends when unemployment figures improve, although there is no evidence to support this."
He told 'Health and Living': "It remains unclear why Ireland is unique. There could be several reasons. One is that the working Irish know better how to combine their job with informal care provision to their older parents or other family members.
"Another possibility is that many older Irish people hold jobs, or are less dependent on their children."
The authors analysed the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of 19 developed countries in Europe, Scandinavia, North America and Australasia between 1950 and 2008. They then plotted the GDP figures against the numbers of deaths among 40- to 44-year-olds and 70- to 74-year-olds.
Over the long term, an increase in GDP was associated with a fall in death rates in all 19 countries, but the economic cycles of relative boom and bust told a different story.
On average, for every one percentage point increase in GDP, death rates rose by 0.36pc among 70- to 74-year-olds, and by 0.38pc among 40- to 44-year-olds.
The effect on women of the same age was similar, but much smaller, rising by 0.18pc among those in their 70s, and by 0.16pc among those in their 40s.
Unhealthy lifestyles and road traffic accidents increase when economies are in good health, but are unlikely to fully explain the trends, they say.
But changes in social support may exert some influence as higher employment could mean less time for informal care-giving, and heightened stress among the carers, a factor worth exploring further in view of the lack of evidence to substantiate this theory, they add.