Job loss increases death risk while recession doesn't: Study

Jul 25, 2014 02:55 PM EDT | By Staff Reporter

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Being unemployed increases your risk of death, but recessions lower it, according to new research.

However, this increased death risk affects only a minority of the people who are unemployed.

 "Most people believe that being unemployed is a bad thing. But what many people do not realize is that economic expansions - which usually reduce joblessness - also have effects that are harmful for society at large," said Jose Tapia, an economist with Drexel University's college of arts and sciences.

Using data from the US Department of Labor and annual survey data of the years 1979-1997, researchers from Drexel University and University of Michigan in Ann Arbor created models in which the hazard or probability of death was statistically estimated.

"The results reveal that joblessness strongly and significantly raises the risk of death among those suffering it," researchers said.

"The increase in the risk of death associated with being unemployed is very strong," said Tapia, "but it is restricted to unemployed persons, who generally are a small fraction of the population, even in a severe recession. Compared with the increase in the risk of death among the unemployed, the decrease of the mortality risk associated with a weakening economy is small, but the benefit spreads across the entire adult population. The compound result of both effects is that total mortality rises in expansions and falls in recessions."

Entitled "Individual Joblessness, Contextual Unemployment, and Mortality Risk," the study was published in July 2014 in the American Journal of Epidemiology, a leading journal in the field of public health. In addition to Tapia, it was conducted by four investigators - sociologist James S. House, PhD; statistician Edward L. Ionides, PhD; sociologist Sarah Burgard, PhD; and economist Robert S. Schoeni, PhD - from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The full article is available here.

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