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Exercise, Physical Activity, and Exertion over the Business Cycle

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  • Gregory J. Colman
  • Dhaval M. Dave

Abstract

As economic recessions reduce employment and wages, associated shifts in time and income constraints would be expected to also impact individuals’ health behaviors. Prior work has focused exclusively on recreational exercise, which typically represents only about 4% of total daily physical exertion. The general presumption in these studies is that, because exercise improves health, if unemployment increases exercise it must also improve health. Yet a person may be laid off from a physically demanding job, exercise more, and still be less physically active than when employed. Thus the relevant question is whether unemployment leads persons to become more physically active. We study this question with the American Time Use Survey (2003-2010), exploring the impact of the business cycle (and specifically the Great Recession) on individuals’ exercise, other uses of time, and physical activity during the day. We also utilize more precise measures of exercise (and all other physical activities), which reflect information on the duration as well as intensity of each component activity, than has been employed in past studies. Using within-state variation in employment and unemployment, we find that recreational exercise tends to increase as employment decreases. In addition, we also find that individuals substitute into television watching, sleeping, childcare, and housework. However, this increase in exercise as well as other activities does not compensate for the decrease in work-related exertion due to job-loss. Thus total physical exertion, which prior studies have not analyzed, declines. These behavioral effects are strongest among low-educated males, which is validating given that the Great Recession led to some of the largest layoffs within the manufacturing, mining, and construction sectors. Due to the concentration of low-educated workers in boom-and-bust industries, the drop in total physical activity during recessions is especially problematic for vulnerable populations and may play a role in exacerbating the SES-health gradient during recessions. We also find some evidence of intra-household spillover effects, wherein individuals respond to shifts in spousal employment conditional on their own labor supply.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17406.

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Date of creation: Sep 2011
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Publication status: published as Colman, Gregory & Dave, Dhaval, 2013. "Exercise, physical activity, and exertion over the business cycle," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 11-20.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17406

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  1. Neumayer, Eric, 2004. "Recessions lower (some) mortality rates:: evidence from Germany," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 58(6), pages 1037-1047, March.
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  4. Dave, Dhaval M. & Kelly, Inas Rashad, 2012. "How does the business cycle affect eating habits?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 74(2), pages 254-262.
  5. Xin Xu & Robert Kaestner, 2010. "The Business Cycle and Health Behaviors," NBER Working Papers 15737, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Gerdtham, Ulf-G. & Ruhm, Christopher J., 2002. "Deaths Rise in Good Economic Times: Evidence From the OECD," IZA Discussion Papers 654, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  7. Henry Saffer & Dhaval M. Dave & Michael Grossman, 2011. "Racial, Ethnic and Gender Differences in Physical Activity," NBER Working Papers 17413, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Paul Gabriel & Peter Groothuis, 2005. "Positive Assortative Mating and Spouses as Complementary Factors of Production: A Theory of Labor Augmentation," Working Papers 05-14, Department of Economics, Appalachian State University.
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  10. Charles, Kerwin Kofi & DeCicca, Philip, 2008. "Local labor market fluctuations and health: Is there a connection and for whom?," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(6), pages 1532-1550, December.
  11. Timothy Halliday, 2006. "The Impact of Aggregate and Idiosyncratic Income Shocks on Health Outcomes: Evidence from the PSID," Working Papers 200606, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Economics.
  12. Darius Lakdawalla & Tomas Philipson & Jay Bhattacharya, 2005. "Welfare-Enhancing Technological Change and the Growth of Obesity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 253-257, May.
  13. Petri Böckerman & Edvard Johansson & Satu Helakorpi & Ritva Prättälä & Erkki Vartiainen & Antti Uutela, 2007. "Does a slump really make you thinner? Finnish micro-level evidence 1978-2002," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 16(1), pages 103-107.
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Cited by:
  1. Johanna Catherine Maclean & Jonathan H. Cantor & Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, 2013. "Economic Downturns and Substance Abuse Treatment: Evidence from Admissions Data," NBER Working Papers 19115, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Christopher J. Ruhm, 2013. "Recessions, Healthy No More?," NBER Working Papers 19287, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Gregory J. Colman & Dhaval M. Dave, 2013. "Physical Activity and Health," NBER Working Papers 18858, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Pabilonia, Sabrina Wulff, 2014. "The Effects of the Great Recession on Teenagers' Risky Health Behaviors and Time Use," IZA Discussion Papers 8204, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  5. Morrill, Melinda Sandler & Pabilonia, Sabrina Wulff, 2012. "What Effects Do Macroeconomic Conditions Have on Families' Time Together?," IZA Discussion Papers 6529, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  6. Tinna Laufey Ásgeirsdóttir & Hope Corman & Kelly Noonan & Þórhildur Ólafsdóttir & Nancy E. Reichman, 2012. "Are Recessions Good for Your Health Behaviors? Impacts of the Economic Crisis in Iceland," NBER Working Papers 18233, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Lindo, Jason M. & Schaller, Jessamyn & Hansen, Benjamin, 2013. "Economic Conditions and Child Abuse," IZA Discussion Papers 7355, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  8. He, Hui & Huang, Kevin X. D. & Hung, Sheng-Ti, 2014. "Are Recessions Good for Your Health? When Ruhm Meets GHH," Dynare Working Papers 31, CEPREMAP.

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