Given the now well-known effects of the Great Recession on economic outcomes of individuals and families, researchers have turned to the question of how this major economic downturn affected domains of family life. One such domain is parents' health and health-related behaviors. It has been argued that recessions could actually improve health, because additional leisure time could be devoted to physical activity or healthful pursuits. People may also have less money available to engage in negative health behaviors like drinking or smoking. Still, recessions are stressful and induce drops in income or wealth, both of which could compromise health or increase risky behaviors.
In a recent paper, Janet Currie of Princeton University and Valentina Duque and Irwin Garfinkel of Columbia University study the health of mothers of young children in the context of the Great Recession. Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS), the authors ask whether the Great Recession was associated with changes in mothers' health (i.e. General health, work-limiting health conditions, depression, obesity, and health insurance) and mothers' health behaviors (i.e., binge drinking, smoking, and drug use). Two key findings emerged: 1) Increased unemployment was associated with worsened self-reported health status and increased smoking and drug use; 2) More disadvantaged mothers (i.e. Black and/or unmarried mothers) suffered the greatest effects for self-reported health, while more advantaged mothers sometimes showed improvements in their health and health behaviors in response to the recession.