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Could the Recession Be Good for Your Health?
Date:9/29/2009

assistant research scientist at University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. "When the economy goes up, mortality tends to go up. When the economy goes down, mortality rates tend to go down, too."

Researchers did find one exception. During the 1920s and 1930s, two-thirds of all deaths were caused by cardiovascular and renal diseases, cancer, influenza and pneumonia, tuberculosis, motor vehicle accidents and suicide.

All became less deadly during difficult economic times, with the exception of suicides. But suicides accounted for fewer than 2 percent of all deaths, not enough to alter the overall trend, the study authors added.

The country's climb out of the Great Depression began in 1933. The economy grew by more than 10 percent annually from 1933 to 1936. Mortality again peaked in 1936, four years after the worst year of the Depression, even for children under age 4.

The surge in deaths in 1936 isn't just attributable to lag time, the researchers noted. Deaths from motor vehicle accidents went up, in which lag time would not play a role.

So why would the return of good times be bad for health?

More economic activity means people have money to drive cars, meaning more die in auto wrecks, the researchers theorize. In the 1920s and 1930s, cars became objects of mass consumption.

As motor vehicle use increases, so does pollution. Recent studies have linked particulate matter from cars and trucks and carbon monoxide with heart attacks and strokes.

During periods of growth, people have more money to spend on alcohol and cigarettes. And more economic activity means more factory orders, meaning people are working harder and longer and sleeping less.

Still, this is not to say that losing a job is good for your health. The study looks at the bigger picture -- fewer cars, fewer people working overtime, less pollution -- and how it may benefit public health as a whole.


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