Economic recessions can have detrimental impacts on individual and family wellbeing. Previous research indicates that recessions increase stress due to unemployment and reductions in income. The uncertainty or anticipation of losing a job also causes stress. Stress tends to have negative effects on physical health, and increase risky or health-compromising behavior, like smoking or binge drinking. In contrast, other data has found positive relationships between unemployment and health, because individuals engage in more healthful behaviors when they have more free time at their disposal or because they have less money to purchase unhealthy substances like Cigarettes or alcohol.
New research by Janet Currie of Princeton University and Valentina Duque of Columbia University uses data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS, see text box) to assess how the Great Recession affects the health of fathers with young children. They examine physical health (i.e. general health status and work-limiting health conditions) and health behaviors (i.e., binge drinking, smoking, and drug use). The analysis on fathers yields two main findings: 1) High unemployment was associated with declines in physical health but little change in health-compromising behaviors; 2) Changes in physical health were concentrated among fathers in the lower end and middle of the education distribution. In a related set of findings using FFCWS data, Currie, Duque, and Irwin Garfinkel of Columbia University study whether the Great Recession led to changes in mothers' physical health and substance use, and they found that the increase in the unemployment rate was associated with substantial declines in mother's physical health and an increase in substance use among the most disadvantaged. The results indicate that economic recessions and related unemployment rates have differing effects on mothers and fathers, at least in terms of binge drinking and drug use.