Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Working More Leads to Bad Health?

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Working More Leads to Bad Health?

Article excerpt

In the midst of an economic downturn, people are concerned about the health of the nation's economy. It is only natural then to wonder how the economy affects a nation's health. Researchers have found the data on how an economic downturn influences health to be mixed; looking at a similar topic, a National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) study entitled "The Business Cycle and Health Behaviors" (NBER Working Paper 15737, February 2010) explores whether an economic expansion improves health. A healthy economy offers financial opportunities and increased prosperity, but do these in turn lead to improved quality of life and health? And if so, what mechanism links expanded economic activity to health consequences?

Authors Xin Xu and Robert Kaestner examine the effects of changes in wages and working hours, which are associated with changes in economic activity, on health-related behaviors of people in the United States with a low level of education. (Economic theory and empirical evidence suggest that the business cycle has the greatest impact on the wages and working hours of low-educated people.) The results of the study indicate that people are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors--specifically, increased cigarette smoking, reduced physical activity, and fewer physician visits--during economic expansions. Changes in individual employment status (associated with local economic activity), rather than changes in income, have the most important effects on health behavior. …

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