Morbidity and Mortality Trends During Times of Economic Downturn



A study using data from the Great Depression in the U.S. found that mortality decreased during this period, and life expectancy increased for all ages (except older ages), gender and race groups. Specifically, infant mortality and tuberculosis mortality declined, except in areas with extraordinarily high unemployment where malnutrition generally increased. This shows that procyclical effects dominated during this study period.1

There are a few arguments to explain this counter-intuitive effect, namely:

Economic expansions have been linked to increased smoking and alcohol consumption, reduction in sleep, increase in work stress and faster and more strenuous labour.

Mortality as a result of traffic and industrial injuries are clearly related to economic expansions.

Higher levels of economic activity may lead to increased atmospheric pollution, which has proven impacts on cardiovascular and respiratory mortality.

Influences such as increased social isolation, lack of homecare and decreased social support are known to be linked to increased employment, work pressure and higher level of work-related migration.2

Author(s): David Hatherell and Tanya van Niekerk

Publication Date: 3 February 2021

Publication Site: Gen Re Perspective