Cheer up! Study of Great Depression shows hard times are good for your health

Great Depression

Fit: The desperate search for jobs in the 1930s actually increase health levels

It's not much fun worrying about your bills and where the next pay rise is coming from. But there is a silver lining – financial adversity could be good for you.

Researchers studying health in the Great Depression found that death rates dropped in the lean days of the early 1930s and increased when the economy expanded.

Many of the biggest killers, including heart disease and cancer, caused fewer deaths in the slump.

Only suicide bucked the trend, with rates rising in line with unemployment.

U.S. researchers believe our well-being blossoms in hard times because we are forced to cut back on indulgences such as rich foods, drinking and smoking.

We may also spend more time with friends and family, boosting morale. And, without early starts and overtime, we may sleep better.

Analysis by the University of Michigan showed that despite unemployment nearing 25 per cent in 1932, health was better.

Life expectancy dipped during prosperous periods but rose from 57.1 years in 1929 to 63.3 in 1933.

‘Years of strong economic growth are associated with either worsening health or with a slowing of improvements in health,’ the analysts told the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

But others believe the research will not hold true today.

Cary Cooper, professor of health psychology at Lancaster University, said: ‘People don’t live with their extended family, they don’t know their neighbours four doors down and they haven’t invested in the community.

‘These things hold you together when times are tough. If I had to make a prediction about this recession I’d say we will suffer marginally more ill health, not better health.’


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