An expected side of economic hard times could be a longer life, according to a new study by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research. Its research about the Great Depression has found that between the years of 1929 and 1932, the life expectancy for Americans rose by an astonishing 6.2 years. Mortality also declined in two other recessions, 1921 and 1938, while the contrary was true during times of economic expansion in 1923, 1926, 1929 and 1936-37.
The study looked at deaths due to six common killers; traffic injuries, TB, pneumonia and flu, cancer, cardiovascular and renal disease and suicide. The link between hard times and longer lives held up for all but one of these causes. The exception was the one you would expect; suicide.
The researchers conjecture that the unexpected results may have stemmed from having more time to sleep, less money to spend on alcohol and cigarettes, experiencing less workplace stress, less exposure to dangerous work conditions or having the time for greater socialization.
The Japanese have a term, karoshi, meaning "death by overwork." Perhaps our recession has brought us one this one gift, freedom from karoshi. While in the middle of hard times, however, I don't expect people to take much joy in the notion that unemployment is good for their health.
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