Recessions – good for your health?

A couple of weeks back, writing in the Sindo, Gene Kerrigan made the not unreasonable assertion that severe recessions cause unnecessary deaths.

We saw all this before.

During the Eighties, savage cuts inflicted lasting pain and cost lives — someone had to pay for the crisis.

Meanwhile, known to the establishment — who were up to their necks in it — the fortunes of the elite were safeguarded using massive tax frauds.

An article in yesterdays Guardian refutes this

Wrong – at least if the experience of history, and one bit of history in particular, is anything to go by. Few economic downturns have been as dramatic and as deep as the Great Depression that overtook America during the 1930s. But figures from that time show that mortality fell and life expectancy increased. The data suggest that economic hardship is good for health. Can this be true?

Well not specifically Gene Kerrigan – but why might this be so?

So what is going on? There is evidence that in periods of economic expansion people smoke and drink more, sleep less, work longer, experience more stress, and suffer more industrial injures – all bad for health.

And what of the period of economic contraction? It’s a mirror image, he says, in which most of these influences are reversed. An enforced switch to part-time working, for example. “To work many hours per day increases risk of heart attack. Fewer hours decreases risk. During recessions road traffic deaths decrease and during expansion they increase.” Hence the counterintuitive outcome; recovery from recession, not the recession itself, does harm.

Go read it all – The real reason Swedes live longer

No bio, some books worth reading – The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves – Matt Ridley .

Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance -Nouriel Roubini, Stephen Mihm

  • The Raven

    Indeed. But I would say, ask any GP about how much mental health related medication they are giving out and have given out over the past two years, and there might be a different story.

    Also, from the article above:

    “He suggests that a clearer understanding of what’s going on in economic cycles could contribute to the development of policies to minimise harm and enhance health. These might include a limitation on overtime, increased holiday entitlements, and improved safety legislation.”

    Bollocks if you think anyone will subscribe to that, especially when you read some of the utterances from CBI and FSB. You’d think paternal parental leave would have brought the country to its knees.

  • kells

    Rubbish.My brother works for one of the main taxi firms in Belfast.8 drivers have killed themselves in the last year.This recession is claiming lives across the country.I was on a beach in a remote part of Co.Louth last week and noticed a Samaratians flyer displayed on a billboard.

  • Procrasnow

    There have been some excellent studies done which would indicate that we survive longer when we put ourselves under pressure. mortality was higher during world war 2 in the low security prison camps than it was in the high security ones, apparently coral on the great barrier reef on the ocean side, subject to the ravages of the currents flourishes while coral on the land side dies quickly.

    have not been to either example so can only quote on what i have read.

  • Gene Kerrigan

    Bit of a misunderstanding, Mack.

    What happened in the 1980s was the government and its cheerleaders decided to balance the books partly by savaging the hospitals – chopping thousands of beds, lengthening queues, postponing vital treatment.

    People lingered on waiting lists, or were discharged early from crowded hospitals – and died, prematurely and unnecessarily. The health service has yet to recover fully from that savagery.

    It might – or might not – be that fewer died in the broad population, due to less stress, fewer traffic accidents etc. Separate matter.

    Feel free to argue that the bankers bank did us a favour by crashing the economy, so lots of us can chill out on the dole. But it’s hard to see the upside to thrashing the hospitals.


  • Mack

    Hi Gene,

    To clarify, I’m not taking issue with your point which I though was perfectly reasonable (i.e. “Gene Kerrigan made the not unreasonable assertion that severe recessions cause unnecessary deaths.”). I was using it as a lead in to some counter-intuitive research that I thought was interesting.

    “Feel free to argue that the bankers bank did us a favour by crashing the economy, so lots of us can chill out on the dole.”

    Point to one blog post where I did that?

  • Mack

    Ah, you mean this one. Look sorry if I gave that impression –

    I am not saying recessions are a good thing.