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The global recession may not be all bad news. Researchers studying the Great Depression during the 1930s found that U.S. life expectancy during that time actually increased by more than six years. They believe that trend seen may be seen in the current financial crisis.
“The processes that were going on then – at least some of them – may also be going on now” said University of Michigan researcher Ana Diez Roux. “The general findings are probably likely to hold.”
Analyzing data from 1920-1940, Diez Roux and fellow researcher Jose Tapia Granados found health generally improved during the four years of the Great Depression and during recessions in 1921 and 1938.
Another unexpected trend occurred during periods of strong economic expansion: mortality increased and life expectancy declined.
Reasons for the Trends
The researchers point to several behaviors during an economic squeeze that might explain an increase in life expectancy. They note smoking, alcohol consumption and unhealthful dietary habits decrease during recessions.
In addition, during a financial downturn, they said there is less vehicular traffic, resulting in fewer deadly accidents and less air pollution.
Researcher Roux says it is important to note that while life expectancy generally increased, during the study period, suicides also increased. Those accounted, however, for less than 2% of all deaths.
Speculating on reasons behind a decrease in life expectancy when the economy is growing quickly, the researchers said there tends to be more pressure and stress in the workplace and less time to spend relaxing with family and friends.
The report “Life and Death during the Great Depression”
by Ana Diez Roux and Jose Tapia Granados was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences