Death Declines During Depressions

Photo by Dorothea Lange, courtesy Wikimdia Commons


People live longer during depressions. A new analysis in PNAS finds that life expectancy of Americans during the Great Depression increased by a whopping 6.2 years—from 57.1 in 1929 to 63.3 years in 1932. This was true for men and women of all races, all age groups, and all causes of death—except suicide.

The researchers analyzed mortality rates from the six most prevalent causes of death in the 1930s: cardiovascular and renal diseases; cancer; influenza and pneumonia; tuberculosis; motor vehicle traffic injuries, and suicide.

Health overall improved during the four years of the Great Depression, as well as during recessions in 1921 and 1938. Conversely, death rates rose during periods of strong economic expansion, such as 1923, 1926, 1929, and 1936-1937.

Why the counterintuitive results?

Well, the study didn’t tackle this question. Though the researchers have a few hunches. All related to the fact that working conditions are different during economic expansions and recessions:

  • In expansions, firms are busy and typically demand a lot from employees, including overtime and a faster work pace. This creates stress, which is associated with more drinking and smoking. [Translation: They work you to death.]
  • In expansions, inexperienced workers are hired more likely to injure or kill themselves on the job.
  • People working a lot tend to sleep less, reducing overall health.
  • People working a lot eat more poorly. Either richer, fattier foods. And/or overworking crap food. [Might I add: more meat?]
  • In recessions, because there’s less work, everyone works at a more relaxed pace. People sleep more.
  • In recessions, people feel, or are, poorer and spend less on alcohol and tobacco. [ Hmm. Not sure I agree with that one. The researchers are not bar-goers, is my guess.]
  • Economic upturns are associated with increases in atmospheric pollution, with its well-documented short-term effects on cardiovascular and respiratory mortality.
  • Economic expansion may increase social isolation and decrease social support because everyone’s working so hard.

So, extreme ambition, cut-throat rivalry, pointless materialism, workalholicism, and general slavery to the almighty boss and his henchman the dollar is deadly to human life?
 

$500,000 MATCHING GIFT

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones: A special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of the huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.