One year ago today the Dow Jones plummeted nearly 778 points, the largest single point total in the index’s history and a certain sign that our latest economic woes wouldn’t disappear quickly. Since then, the unemployment rate has soared and the economy has continued to shrink. So have you felt healthier this past year?
You should, according to a new study released Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. The authors of the study combed through mortality and life expectancy data for 1920-1940 and compared the numbers to economic indicators for the same two decades. Life expectancy plummeted during times of economic growth, they found, especially during the boom-boom years of the 1920s. But when the Great Depression struck, mortality rates decreased and people of all stripes tended to live longer.
Perhaps even more intriguing is the correlation between certain diseases and economic growth. Cardiovascular and renal diseases flourished during the 1920s, but leveled off in the 1930s. Traffic deaths also fell during the Great Depression, as did the number of people succumbing to pneumonia and the flu. Only suicides rose during the 1930s.
So what’s to blame? Tobacco and booze, for one—more people drank and smoked heavily in heady times. Furthermore, a working population is at greater risk of accidents on the job, a grim and widespread reality for blue collar workers in those days. The authors also suspect work-related stress played a role by exacerbating chronic diseases.