key topic

Health and well-being

Healthier workforces are more productive but how does the working environment impact on employees’ health? What can employers and policymakers do to ensure the well-being of their workforce?

  • The economics of mental health

    With modern psychological therapy, mentally ill people can become more productive and more satisfied with life

    Richard Layard, January 2017
    In a typical country, one in five people suffers from a mental illness, the great majority from depression or crippling anxiety. Mental illness accounts for half of all illness up to age 45 in rich countries, making it the most prevalent disease among working-age people; it also accounts for close to half of disability benefits in many countries. Mentally ill people are less likely to be employed and, if employed, more likely to be out sick or working below par. If mentally ill people received treatment so that they had the same employment rate as the rest of the population, total employment would be 4% higher, adding many billions to national output.
  • Do schooling reforms improve long-term health?

    It is difficult to find consistent evidence that schooling reforms provide health benefits

    David Madden, October 2016
    A statistical association between more education and better health outcomes has long been observed, but in the absence of experimental data researchers have struggled to find a causal effect. Schooling reforms such as raising school leaving age, which have been enacted in many countries, can be viewed as a form of natural experiment and provide a possible method of identifying such an effect. However, the balance of evidence so far is that these reforms have had little impact on long-term health. Thus, policymakers should be cautious before anticipating a health effect when introducing reforms of this nature.
  • The relationship between recessions and health

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

    Nick Drydakis, August 2016
    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.
  • Health effects of job insecurity

    Job insecurity adversely affects health, but fair workplace practices and employee participation can mitigate the effects

    Francis Green, December 2015
    Research has shown that job insecurity affects both mental and physical health, though the effects are lower when employees are easily re-employable. The detrimental effects of job insecurity can also be partly mitigated by employers allowing greater employee participation in workplace decision-making in order to ensure fair procedures. But as job insecurity is felt by many more people than just the unemployed, the negative health effects during recessions are multiplied and extend through the majority of the population. This reinforces the need for more effective, stabilising macroeconomic policies.
  • Sports, exercise, and labor market outcomes

    Increasing participation in sports and exercise can boost productivity and earnings

    Michael Lechner, February 2015
    A productive workforce is a key objective of public economic policy. Recent empirical work suggests that increasing individual participation in sports and exercise can be a major force for achieving this goal. The productivity gains and related increase in earnings come on top of the already well-documented public health effects that have so far provided the rationale for the major national and international campaigns to increase individual physical activity. The deciding issue for government policy is whether there are externalities, information asymmetries, or other reasons that lead individuals to decide on activity levels that are too low from a broader social perspective.
  • Youth sports and the accumulation of human capital

    Positive contributions to cognitive and non-cognitive skills justify public support of youth sports

    Michael A. Leeds, February 2015
    In response to declining budgets, many school districts in the US have reduced funding for sports. In Europe, parents may respond to difficult economic times by spending less on sports clubs for their children. Such cuts are unwise if participating in sports is an investment good as well as a consumption good and adds to students’ human capital. The value of sports is hard to measure because people who already possess the skills needed to succeed in school and beyond might be more likely to participate in sports. Most studies that account for this endogeneity find that participation in youth sports improves academic and labor market performance.
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