Background: There are great concerns and some initial country-specific, descriptive evidence about potential adverse health consequences of the recent Great Recession.
Methods: Using data for 23 European Union countries we examine the short-term impact of macroeconomic decline during the Great Recession on a range of health and health behaviour indicators. We also examine whether the effect differed between countries according to the level of social protection provided.
Results: Overall, during the recent recession, an increase of one percentage point in the standardised unemployment rate has been associated with a statistically significant decrease in the following mortality rates: all-cause-mortality (3.4%), cardiovascular diseases (3.7%), cirrhosis- and chronic liver disease-related mortality (9.2%), motor vehicle accident-related mortality (11.5%), parasitic infection-related mortality (4.1%), but an increase in the suicide rate (34.1%). In general, the effects were more marked in countries with lower levels of social protection, compared to those with higher levels.
Conclusions: An increase in the unemployment rate during the Great Recession has had a beneficial health effect on average across EU countries, except for suicide mortality. Social protection expenditures appear to help countries "smooth" the health response to a recession, limiting health damage but also forgoing potential health gains that could otherwise result.
Keywords: Cross-country panel analysis; Europe; Recession; Socioeconomic determinants.
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