Recessions bring drop in mortality rates, university study suggests
A university study has suggested that people live for longer during economic recessions.
While the reasons are debated, the fall in mortality rates may be attributed to a drop in motor vehicle deaths when people do not have a job to drive to, and to unemployed people having more time to cook their own food and exercise, the paper said.
But the study by Dr Nick Drydakis of Anglia Ruskin University, published by IZA World of Labour, found that incidences of suicide and mental health problems tend to increase during recessions.
Data was investigated from various national and regional studies carried out across Europe, Asia and the United States between 1960 and 2010.
The research found that for every 1% increase in the rate of unemployment, mortality rates fall on average by 0.5%.
However, for every 1% rise in unemployment, suicides increase by an average of 1% (1.3% in the US and 0.9% in the EU).
Recent data shows that suicide rates in the US and the EU have been on an upward trend since the recession of 2008, and the link between suicide and unemployment is strongest among the under 40s.
Unemployment or income loss is thought to result in adverse mental health symptoms because people are stripped of certain functions of employment such as a collective purpose, goals, physical security, social contact and status.
The reason for the fall in mortality rates during economic downturns is less clear, and some researchers believe the relationship between mortality rates and business cycles should be viewed over a longer time period.
People may increase consumption of alcohol or tobacco during a recession, and the adverse health consequences of this might not appear until the economic recovery phase is under way.
Studies also fail to provide data on those directly affected by unemployment, but simply overall mortality rates.
Dr Drydakis, Reader in Economics at Anglia Ruskin University, which has campuses in Cambridge, Chelmsford and Peterborough, said: "Although these studies show a fall in mortality rates during recessions amongst the population as a whole, they may worsen rates amongst specific social groups.
"Country-level studies do not allow for a clear identification of who has been affected, how they have been affected, or to determine the magnitude of the impact on specific health conditions.
"Austerity measures that may be common during recessions, such as budget cuts to social welfare, mainly affect vulnerable groups and the long-term unemployed.
"Social planners should acknowledge that the extent to which recessions affect a population's health depends on the extent to which vulnerable people are protected."