The Best of Times, the Worst of Times: Understanding Pro-cyclical Mortality

Am Econ J Econ Policy. 2015 Nov;7(4):279-311. doi: 10.1257/pol.20130057.


It is well known that mortality rates are pro-cyclical. In this paper, we attempt to understand why. We find little evidence that cyclical changes in individuals' own employment-related behavior drives the relationship; own-group employment rates are not systematically related to own-group mortality. Further, most additional deaths that occur when the economy is strong are among the elderly, particularly elderly women and those residing in nursing homes. We also demonstrate that staffing in nursing homes moves counter-cyclically. These findings suggest that cyclical fluctuations in the quality of health care may be a critical contributor to cyclical movements in mortality.