Deaths rise in good economic times: evidence from the OECD

Econ Hum Biol. 2006 Dec;4(3):298-316. doi: 10.1016/j.ehb.2006.04.001. Epub 2006 May 18.


This study uses aggregate data for 23 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries over the 1960-1997 period to examine the relationship between macroeconomic conditions and deaths. The main finding is that total mortality and deaths from several common causes rise when labor markets strengthen. For instance, controlling for year effects, location fixed-effects (FE), country-specific time trends and demographic characteristics, a 1% point decrease in the national unemployment rate is associated with growth of 0.4% in total mortality and the following increases in cause-specific mortality: 0.4% for cardiovascular disease, 1.1% for influenza/pneumonia, 1.8% for liver disease, 2.1% for motor vehicle deaths, and 0.8% for other accidents. These effects are particularly pronounced for countries with weak social insurance systems, as proxied by public social expenditure as a share of GDP. The findings are consistent with evidence provided by other recent research and cast doubt on the hypothesis that economic downturns have negative effects on physical health.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cause of Death
  • Developed Countries
  • Economics*
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Models, Econometric
  • Mortality*
  • Social Security