2009 February 01 Sunday
Tyler Cowen: Physical Health Improves In Recessions

Without losing your job you can simulate the health-promoting effects of a recession by living more cheaply, sleeping more, and exercising more.

Recessions and depressions, of course, are not good for mental health. But it is less widely known that in the United States and other affluent countries, physical health seems to improve, on average, during a downturn. Sure, it’s stressful to miss a paycheck, but eliminating the stresses of a job may have some beneficial effects. Perhaps more important, people may take fewer car trips, thus lowering the risk of accidents, and spend less on alcohol and tobacco. They also have more time for exercise and sleep, and tend to choose home cooking over fast food.

In a 2003 paper, “Healthy Living in Hard Times,” Christopher J. Ruhm, an economist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, found that the death rate falls as unemployment rises. In the United States, he found, a 1 percent increase in the unemployment rate, on average, decreases the death rate by 0.5 percent.

I used to drive to a supermarket that is pretty close to where I live. But a couple of years ago I started making myself walk instead. Now I walk to many places I used to drive to. Obviously, if you do live close enough to stores to walk you might still need to drive. Though a bicycle could easily make a 3 mile trip feasible without a car.

We aren't adapted to industrial civilization. Our ancestors evolved (really) under conditions far different than those we face today. We need to make choices and shape our environments in ways that will get us the exercise and diets which we are more suited to.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2009 February 01 05:57 PM  Human Nature


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