Elderly Live Longer In Recessions
October 8, 2013

The Elderly Live Longer In Economic Recessions, But Researchers Don’t Know Why

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

The elderly tend to die in higher numbers when the economy is booming versus when its heading for recession, according to a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Researchers analyzed the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of 19 developed countries in Europe, Scandinavia, North America and Australia between 1950 and 2008. They also plotted the GDP figures against the numbers of deaths among 40 to 44 year olds and 70 to 74 year olds over the same period.

The scientists wanted to understand the impact of a sluggish economy on life expectancy because many countries are both in a recession and seeing an increase in the proportion of elderly people in the population.

"As mortality is more and more concentrated at old age, it becomes critical to identify the determinants of old age mortality. It has counter-intuitively been found that mortality rates at all ages are higher during short-term increases in economic growth," the authors wrote in the journal. "Work-stress is found to be a contributing factor to this association, but cannot explain the association for the older, retired population."

The team found that the long term increase in GDP was associated with a fall in death rates in all 19 countries, but the economic cycles of relative boom and bust were different. As the economies grew, death rates increased for both middle aged and older people, but a recession led to a drop in death rates.

For every one percentage point increase in GDP, death rates rose by 0.36 percent among 70 to 74 year olds, and by 0.38 percent among 40 to 44 year olds. The authors suggest that increased levels of work stress and traffic accidents are unlikely to explain this trend because the older population isn't working. Although unhealthy lifestyles increase when economies are in good health, the researchers do not believe that this fully explains the trend either.

The team said that changes in social support may be a reason for why this trend occurs, because higher employment could mean less time for informal care-giving to older people, and heightened stress among caregivers. They said that this theory is worth exploring further in view of the lack of evidence to substantiate it.

"Traditional explanations as work-stress and traffic accidents cannot explain our findings. Lower levels of social support and informal care by the working population during good economic times can play an important role, but this remains to be formally investigated," the authors concluded in the journal.