Lifecycle effects of a recession on health behaviors: Boom, bust, and recovery in Iceland

Econ Hum Biol. 2016 Mar:20:90-107. doi: 10.1016/j.ehb.2015.11.001. Epub 2015 Nov 14.


This study uses individual-level longitudinal data from Iceland, a country that experienced a severe economic crisis in 2008 and substantial recovery by 2012, to investigate the extent to which the effects of a recession on health behaviors are lingering or short-lived and to explore trajectories in health behaviors from pre-crisis boom, to crisis, to recovery. Health-compromising behaviors (smoking, heavy drinking, sugared soft drinks, sweets, fast food, and tanning) declined during the crisis, and all but sweets continued to decline during the recovery. Health-promoting behaviors (consumption of fruit, fish oil, and vitamins/minerals and getting recommended sleep) followed more idiosyncratic paths. Overall, most behaviors reverted back to their pre-crisis levels or trends during the recovery, and these short-term deviations in trajectories were probably too short-lived in this recession to have major impacts on health or mortality. A notable exception is for binge drinking, which declined by 10% during the 2 crisis years, continued to fall (at a slower rate of 8%) during the 3 recovery years, and did not revert back to the upward pre-crisis trend during our observation period. These lingering effects, which directionally run counter to the pre-crisis upward trend in consumption and do not reflect price increases during the recovery period, suggest that alcohol is a potential pathway by which recessions improve health and/or reduce mortality.

Keywords: Economic crisis; Economic recovery; Health behaviors; Iceland; Recessions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcohol Drinking / economics
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Diet / adverse effects
  • Diet / economics*
  • Diet / trends
  • Dietary Sucrose / adverse effects
  • Dietary Sucrose / economics
  • Economic Development / trends*
  • Economic Recession*
  • Fast Foods / adverse effects
  • Fast Foods / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Iceland
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Smoking / economics
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Sunbathing / economics
  • Sunbathing / trends
  • Young Adult


  • Dietary Sucrose