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Consequences of the Great Recession on Health and Health-Related Outcomes

Awarded Scholars

Melissa McInerney, College of William and Mary
Jennifer Mellor, College of William and Mary
Lauren Nicholas, University of Michigan
Project Date: November, 2011
Award Amount:$140,367

The Great Recession has had a devastating impact on the financial health of American households. Unemployment rates have risen, while housing values and savings diminished. All of these financial effects are likely to have had consequences for the health of Americans. Financial shocks could be expected to impact health negatively in a number of ways. Individual-level studies have shown that stress may lead to depression and anxiety, or even to physiological symptoms such as declining cardiovascular function or diminished immune response. Health- risk factors, such as smoking, high alcohol consumption, or obesity may increase. And the use of healthcare may decline because of a loss of health insurance or income, or reluctance to take time off from work in the current job market. On the other hand, in aggregate-level studies it appears that economic downturns are associated with improvements in overall health and mortality and with a reduction in risky behaviors.

In order to understand how health has been impacted by the Great Recession, Melissa McInerney, Jennifer Mellor, and Lauren Nicholas will examine the effects of unemployment and wealth declines on the health and health-related behaviors of Americans during the recession. Additionally, they will investigate how these effects vary by race, education level, age, and socioeconomic status. They will use data from the Health and Retirement Survey (HRS), a nationally representative longitudinal survey of 22,000 people over the age of 50. The survey includes information on a number of measures of respondent health status (mental and physical), health behaviors, health insurance, and healthcare utilization. They will also use data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), which consists of more than 12,000 people first interviewed in 1979 who are now in their 40s.