Longitudinal studies at the level of individuals find that employees who lose their jobs are at increased risk of death. However, analyses of aggregate data find that as unemployment rates increase during recessions, population mortality actually declines. We addressed this paradox by using data from the US Department of Labor and annual survey data (1979-1997) from a nationally representative longitudinal study of individuals-the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. Using proportional hazards (Cox) regression, we analyzed how the hazard of death depended on 1) individual joblessness and 2) state unemployment rates, as indicators of contextual economic conditions. We found that 1) compared with the employed, for the unemployed the hazard of death was increased by an amount equivalent to 10 extra years of age, and 2) each percentage-point increase in the state unemployment rate reduced the mortality hazard in all individuals by an amount equivalent to a reduction of 1 year of age. Our results provide evidence that 1) joblessness strongly and significantly raises the risk of death among those suffering it, and 2) periods of higher unemployment rates, that is, recessions, are associated with a moderate but significant reduction in the risk of death among the entire population.
Keywords: Cox model; business cycles; macroeconomic conditions; mortality; proportional hazards model; recessions; unemployment.
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