Why Recessions Are Good For Your Health: Nursing Home Staffs?

nursing home xmas

A paper just posted by the The National Bureau of Economic Research offers an interesting explanation: When the economy is better, the labor market gets tighter and staff shortages in nursing homes get worse, so the inferior care leads to more deaths.

As the analysis notes, there are many theories that purport to explain the recessionary drop in deaths. Maybe when you work more, you eat worse and exercise less. Maybe when you work more, you drive more, leading to more pollution and accidents. Maybe (my favorite) work is just bad for you.

But the key seems to lie with older women, argue the authors of "The Best of Times, the Worst of Times: Understanding Pro-cyclical Mortality." They note that "women age 65 plus account for 55% of the roughly 6,700 additional deaths (across all ages and genders) that are predicted to result from a 1 percentage point drop in unemployment."

From the National Bureau of Economic Research:

The authors devote the rest of their analysis to exploring why older women face higher mortality risk when the economy strengthens. They suggest that there may be cyclical changes in the quality, quantity, or nature of health care inputs, which may have a greater effect on women over age 65 because they use health care more intensively.

Several basic facts are supportive of such a theory. Employment in the health care sector is lower during periods of expansion than during recessions. Nursing homes often report shortages of skilled workers, shortages that may be particularly severe when the economy is strong. A lack of trained personnel in nursing homes could affect older women more than older men since women are more likely to use nursing home care at the end of their lives.

Readers, does this theory carry water? Here's the official summary of the paper, and the paper itself.

This program aired on April 2, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

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Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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