Research shows people live longer during recessions

Jake Cordell
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Mortality rates fall during recessions
Mortality rates fall during recessions (Source: Getty)

A new study has found that mortality rates drop and people live longer during periods of economic hardship.

For every one percentage point increase in unemployment, research published today by IZA World of Labour found there is a 0.5 percentage point fall in the number of deaths in developed economies.

According to Nick Drydakis, a reader in economics at Anglia Ruskin University who wrote the report which reviewed a number of studies from across the world, said: "Substantial country-level research shows that mortality declines during recessions".

The effects were greatest in Asia-Pacific countries, where a one point rise in unemployment resulted in a 1.4 point fall in overall mortality. In the US, the marginal effect was smaller at a 0.5 percentage point fall, while in France there was only the slightest fall in the number of deaths as a result of rising unemployment.

Unemployment gains

A one percentage point rise in unemployment (e.g. from 4.9 to 5.9 per cent), results in ...

Country/Region Fall in total mortality
Asia-Pacfic 1.4 percentage points
Germany 1.1 percentage points
US 0.5 percentage points
OECD 0.4 percentage points
Spain 0.1 percentage points
France 0.07 percentage points

Drydakis speculated that fall in mortality could be because "recessions can make more time available for individuals to lead a healthy lifestyle". Studies based on the US also showed that deaths from driving dropped in times of recession, as fewer people were travelling during rush hours, while "reductions in smoking, drinking [and] obesity" may also occur during a downturn.

Read more: Is the UK about to enter a recession?

However, the report added: "EU studies suggest that while the temporary effect of an increase in unemployment is to lower mortality, the permanent effect is to increase it." Drydakis also observed downturns lead to an increase in suicides and can create longer-term mental health problems among people who suffer extended periods of joblessness.