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Recessions, Older Workers, and Longevity: How Long Are Recessions Good For Your Health?


  • Courtney C. Coile
  • Phillip B. Levine
  • Robin McKnight


This paper examines the impact of exposure to higher unemployment rates in the pre-retirement years on subsequent mortality. Although past research has found that recessions reduce contemporaneous mortality, these short-term effects may reverse over time, particularly for older workers. If workers experience an economic downturn in their late 50s, they may face several years of reduced employment and earnings before "retiring" when they reach Social Security eligibility at age 62. They also may experience lost health insurance, and therefore higher financial barriers to health care, through age 65, when Medicare becomes available. All of these experiences could contribute to weaker long-term health outcomes. To examine these hypotheses, we use Vital Statistics mortality data between 1969 and 2008 to generate age-specific cohort survival probabilities at older ages. We then link these survival probabilities to labor market conditions at earlier ages. We also use data from the 1980-2010 March Current Population Surveys and the 1991-2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System surveys to explore potential mechanisms for this health effect. Our results indicate that experiencing a recession in one's late 50s leads to a reduction in longevity. We also find that this exposure leads to several years of reduced employment, health insurance coverage, and health care utilization which may contribute to the lower long-term likelihood of survival.

Suggested Citation

  • Courtney C. Coile & Phillip B. Levine & Robin McKnight, 2012. "Recessions, Older Workers, and Longevity: How Long Are Recessions Good For Your Health?," NBER Working Papers 18361, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18361
    Note: AG HC HE LS

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ruhm, Christopher J., 2005. "Healthy living in hard times," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 341-363, March.
    2. Ann H. Stevens & Douglas L. Miller & Marianne E. Page & Mateusz Filipski, 2015. "The Best of Times, the Worst of Times: Understanding Pro-cyclical Mortality," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 7(4), pages 279-311, November.
    3. John Cawley & Asako S. Moriya & Kosali Simon, 2015. "The Impact of the Macroeconomy on Health Insurance Coverage: Evidence from the Great Recession," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 24(2), pages 206-223, February.
    4. David H. Autor & Mark G. Duggan, 2003. "The Rise in the Disability Rolls and the Decline in Unemployment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(1), pages 157-206.
    5. Christopher J. Ruhm, 2000. "Are Recessions Good for Your Health?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(2), pages 617-650.
    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. Mark A. Aguiar & Erik Hurst & Loukas Karabarbounis, 2011. "Time Use During Recessions," NBER Working Papers 17259, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Joanna N. Lahey, 2008. "Age, Women, and Hiring: An Experimental Study," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 43(1).
    9. Daniel Sullivan & Till von Wachter, 2009. "Job Displacement and Mortality: An Analysis Using Administrative Data," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(3), pages 1265-1306.
    10. Douglas L. Miller & Marianne E. Page & Ann Huff Stevens & Mateusz Filipski, 2009. "Why Are Recessions Good for Your Health?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(2), pages 122-127, May.
    11. Richard W. Johnson & Barbara Butrica, 2012. "Age Disparities in Unemployment and Reemployment During the Great Recession and Recovery," Issue Briefs 2012-03, Urban Institute, Program on Retirement Policy.
    12. John Bound & Timothy Waidmann, 2007. "Estimating the Health Effects of Retirements," Working Papers wp168, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
    13. Courtney C. Coile & Phillip B. Levine, 2010. "Recessions, Reeling Markets, and Retiree Well-Being," NBER Working Papers 16066, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. Courtney C. Coile & Phillip B. Levine, 2011. "Recessions, Retirement, and Social Security," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(3), pages 23-28, May.
    15. Stephen E. Snyder & William N. Evans, 2006. "The Effect of Income on Mortality: Evidence from the Social Security Notch," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 88(3), pages 482-495, August.
    16. Courtney C. Coile, 2004. "Health Shocks and Couples' Labor Supply Decisions," NBER Working Papers 10810, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Tapia Granados, José A. & Rodriguez, Javier M., 2015. "Health, economic crisis, and austerity: A comparison of Greece, Finland and Iceland," Health Policy, Elsevier, vol. 119(7), pages 941-953.
    2. Boen, Courtney & Yang, Y. Claire, 2016. "The physiological impacts of wealth shocks in late life: Evidence from the Great Recession," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 150(C), pages 221-230.
    3. Courtney Coile, 2015. "Recessions and Retirement: How Stock and Labor Market Fluctuations Affect Older Workers," ifo DICE Report, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, vol. 13(2), pages 03-07, 08.
    4. David Hummels & Jakob Munch & Chong Xiang, 2016. "No Pain, No Gain: The Effects of Exports on Effort, Injury, and Illness," NBER Working Papers 22365, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Garth Heutel & Christopher J. Ruhm, 2016. "Air Pollution and Procyclical Mortality," Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, University of Chicago Press, vol. 3(3), pages 667-706.
    6. Anne Case & Angus Deaton, 2017. "Mortality and Morbidity in the 21st Century," Working Papers 2017-spring, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Research Program in Development Studies..
    7. repec:ces:ifodic:v:13:y:2015:i:2:p:19166282 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Courtney C. Coile, 2015. "Economic Determinants Of Workers’ Retirement Decisions," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 29(4), pages 830-853, September.
    9. Jonathan H. Cantor & Brady P. Horn & Johanna Catherine Maclean, 2013. "Recessions and Admissions to Substance Abuse Treatment," NBER Working Papers 19115, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. repec:bin:bpeajo:v:48:y:2017:i:2017-01:p:397-476 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • J26 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Retirement; Retirement Policies

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