Upsides to the downturn – work less, die later

Chinese card playersPeriods of economic recession are bound to affect your health negatively, right? Well, not according to Christopher Ruhm, economics professor, whose research suggests that health actually improves in recessions:

In studies over the past 10 years, Ruhm has consistently found death rates decline during recessions and rise when the economy expands. If unemployment rises 1 percent, he estimates the death rate will fall by about half a percent.

“I tracked things like unemployment and mortality and found that they were almost a mirror image of each other,” Ruhm said.

Other researchers have found evidence of improved health during economic downturns in Cuba, Germany, Japan and Spain. Think of it as a silver lining — and perhaps a measure of how much our unhealthy lifestyles and workaholic tendencies can get the best of us during boom times.


Some experts remain skeptical, in part because of overwhelming evidence that people who lose jobs suffer poor health because of it. Depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, and anti-social behavior become significantly more likely after a person gets laid off.

As with so many articles of this type, there’s actually no conclusive proof either way. The causality of changes in the death rates is going to be affected by a multitude of interdependent factors, of which the state of the economy is just one (albeit a fairly significant and influential one). [via MetaFilter; image by SocTech]

That said, there’s a nugget of appealing logic at the core of Ruhm’s research. How much does the amount we work (and what we get paid for that work) really compensate us for the loss of what might be a somewhat spartan but more leisurely lifestyle? If the link was found to be explicit, what trappings of your current life would you be willing to sacrifice in exchange for a happier, healthier life? Or is this just another rehashing of Walden Pond for the modern age, a desperate grab for a silver lining in a cloudy sky?

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