The relationship between recessions and health

Economic recessions seem to reduce overall mortality rates, but increase suicides and mental health problems

Anglia Ruskin University, UK, and IZA, Germany

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Elevator pitch

Recessions are complex events that affect personal health and behavior via various potentially opposing mechanisms. While recessions are known to have negative effects on mental health and lead to an increase in suicides, it has been proven that they reduce mortality rates. A general health policy agenda in relation to recessions remains ambiguous due to the lack of consistency between different individual- and country-level approaches. However, aggregate regional patterns provide valuable information, and local social planners could use them to design region-specific policy responses to mitigate the negative health effects cause by recessions.

Rückgang der Gesamtsterblichkeit und Zunahme der Selbstmorde bei steigender Arbeitslosigkeit

Key findings


Substantial country-level research shows that mortality declines (i.e. people live longer) during recessions.

Recessions can make more time available for individuals to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Motor vehicle deaths have been shown to decrease during recessions.

Some studies suggest that during recessions the stigma of being unemployed decreases.


A plethora of individual-level studies show that recessions lead to adverse mental health, especially for working-age and low-income people.

The number of suicides appears to increase during periods of recession.

Income loss due to recessions decreases investments in health-enhancing goods and services.

Austerity measures that may be common during recessions, such as budget cuts to social welfare, mainly affect vulnerable population groups and the long-term unemployed.

Author's main message

Studien zu den Gesundheitseffekten wirtschaftlicher Rezessionen liefern teils widersprüchliche Ergebnisse. Die Zunahme von psychischen Problemen und Selbstmorden sollte der Politik jedoch Ansporn genug sein, noch intensiver auf eine rasche konjunkturelle Erholung hinzuarbeiten. Vor allem sollte berücksichtigt werden, dass die Gesundheit bestimmter Bevölkerungsgruppen besonders unter einer schlechten Wirtschaftslage leidet. Sozialpolitische Maßnahmen wie Arbeitsmarktprogramme, Schuldenerleichterungen sowie der Zugang zu medizinischen und psychosozialen Diensten sollten daher im Vordergrund stehen, wenn es darum geht, gesundheitliche Schäden durch Rezessionen abzuwenden.

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