Our lives were starting to return to normal in 2022, or so it seemed. But after two years of the pandemic, an ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war, major supply chain disruptions, and rising inflation, a global recession is looming at our doors.
Unfortunately, the burden on our economy seems to only get heavier and economists don’t have good news to share. According to TD Securities, there is a more than 50% chance of a recession in the USA in the next 18 months. About 72 % of economists polled by the National Association of Business Economics agree, predicting the start of a recession in the middle of next year. Europe also seems to be on the brink of a recession, due to economic problems caused by war and inflation. A recession isn’t a disaster – it’s technically a period of two consecutive quarters of economic decline. A recession can have serious, far-reaching effects, but surprisingly, not everything that comes out of a recession is necessarily bad.
The unexpected health benefits of a recession
Despite the fact that recessions generally lead to both economic and health problems, research shows that the mortality rate is lower during economic downturns. Ralph Catalano, a public health researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, outlines some positive effects that could come with layoffs and wage cuts.
During a recession, people tend to have lower incomes and the less fortunate are even fired, Catalano says. This means they need to manage their expenses very well and sometimes this leads to forgoing some harmful consumption patterns. People are more likely to quit smoking, alcohol and drugs because of their high cost. But on the flip side, this helps prevent cardiovascular issues, as well as other health problems.
Fewer employees means fewer workplace accidents, because slower production allows more attention to safety measures and there are fewer opportunities for these accidents to take place. Added to this is the decrease in road accidents during a recession. If people no longer have a job to go to, they will use their personal vehicle less, especially if gas prices rise. At the same time, fewer cars on the road means less pollution, which improves air quality – and with air pollution killing 9 million people a year, this makes a significant difference.
With more free time due to unemployment, people also take up new hobbies that don’t require money. Favorites include sports and meditation, which keep you in shape and help to clear your mind of stress. An analysis of data from 1987 to 2000 shows that leisure activities increase during a recession, while smoking and being overweight decrease.
All of these factors could explain why the death rate is lower during economic downturns. But that’s not all, the findings appear to be supported by data from the Great Recession between 2007 and 2009. During this time period, mortality rates were lower than in previous years. According to a study, during the Great Recession, cardiovascular disease deaths, as well as deaths from traffic accidents, were greatly reduced compared to previous years.
Not all good
But are all these reasons to celebrate recessions? Well, here’s the catch: during a recession, people are less likely to die, but they can also be more prone to medical problems. So, no one is ready to glorify life during an economic downturn.
“If that were really true, then why don’t we just recommend recessions?” says Ralph Catalano, a public-health researcher at the University of California, Berkeley.
What’s more, the relationship between recession and mortality rates differs from one ethnic group to another. The “healthy recession paradox” only seems to apply to rich countries, like the USA. Developed countries during recessions tend to register low mortality rates, while the population of less-developed countries struggles with both economic and health-related problems.
This is because Latin America and middle- and low-income countries have weaker healthcare and social protection systems. One such example is Brazil, which reported an increase in mortality rates during recessions, due to delays in paying the medical staff and medicine shortages.
Although underdeveloped countries and marginalized populations are most affected by economic downturns, people around the world may experience a decline in their health and well-being, which can be explained by a number of reasons.
Let’s start with the fact that losing your job might take a toll on your mental health. During recessions, more cases of psychological distress, suicides, and suicide attempts have been reported. Although it was mentioned earlier that people usually give up smoking and alcohol because they can’t afford them anymore, some individuals do the exact opposite, as they turn to these bad habits to help them cope with stress.
Studies have found that individuals’ overall health declines during economic downturns and they are more susceptible to nausea, backache, diarrhea, heart bum, fatigue, sleeping problems. This is because they cannot afford to pay for medical services, like screening and investigations designed to periodically monitor people’s health. This is especially true for countries that don’t have a universal healthcare system, such as the USA.
Data show that the fertility rate also suffers during economic downturns. This is exactly what happened during the Great Recession, when there was an 11% drop in the fertility rate in the US.
In addition, children seem to be affected by recessions, as parents may not be able to afford all the necessary childcare supplies, from special foods to new diapers and clothes.
Recessions come with bad and good parts, but one thing is for sure: no one wants to deal with an economic downturn and the health problems that accompany it.