60-Second Science

The Great Depression Increased Life Expectancy

A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that the population life expectancy actually increased during the Great Depression. Karen Hopkin reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

Believe it or not, depression can be good for your health. Ok, not that kind of depression. An economic depression. According to work published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, people actually got healthier during the Great Depression.

On September 1st, we ran a story about the health benefits of a good recession. And we received several incredulous responses. Some listeners firmly believe that people eat and drink and smoke more when their finances are bleak. Now along comes another study of life and death during the granddaddy of economic downturns. This time, researchers find that life expectancy actually increased during the years of the Great Depression. Yes, the rate of suicides also increased, but only accounted for two percent of deaths.

So what makes economic good times bad for us? Well, economic growth has been linked to work-related stress, less sleep, on-the-job accidents, traffic fatalities and more pollution. Plus, spending more time at work could mean spending less time caring for sick family members. So when the economy turns healthy again, living more like we’re still in lean times might make us all a bit healthier, as well.

—Karen Hopkin

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