Assessing the short term health impact of the Great Recession in the European Union: a cross-country panel analysis

Prev Med. 2014 Jul;64:54-62. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.03.028. Epub 2014 Apr 6.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cause of Death / trends
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Economic Recession*
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • European Union / economics*
  • European Union / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Status Indicators
  • Humans
  • Mortality / trends
  • Social Determinants of Health*
  • Social Security / economics
  • Social Security / standards
  • Social Security / statistics & numerical data*
  • Suicide / economics
  • Suicide / trends*
  • Unemployment / psychology
  • Unemployment / statistics & numerical data