The health effects of economic decline

Annu Rev Public Health. 2011:32:431-50. doi: 10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031210-101146.


Political pronouncements and policy statements include much conjecture concerning the health and behavioral effects of economic decline. We both summarize empirical research concerned with those effects and suggest questions for future research priorities. We separate the studies into groups defined by questions asked, mechanisms invoked, and outcomes studied. We conclude that although much research shows that undesirable job and financial experiences increase the risk of psychological and behavioral disorder, many other suspected associations remain poorly studied or unsupported. The intuition that mortality increases when the economy declines, for example, appears wrong. We note that the research informs public health programming by identifying risk factors, such as job loss, made more frequent by economic decline. The promise that the research would identify health costs and benefits of economic policy choices, however, remains unfulfilled and will likely remain so without stronger theory and greater methodological agreement.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Economic Recession*
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Morbidity
  • Mortality