Life Expectancy during the Great Depression in Twelve Western Economies

Tim-Allen Bruckner, University of California, Irvine
Ralph Catalano, University of California, Berkeley

The global economic recession has renewed interest in the relation between declining economies and population health. Understanding the extreme case of the Great Depression may inform the current debate as well as theory regarding biological and behavioral adaptations to unwanted economic change. We test the procyclical hypothesis that period life expectancy improved during the Great Depression. We applied time-series methods to life table data from the following societies: Denmark, England and Wales, Finland, France, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland, Sweden, and Switzerland. Findings do not support the hypothesis in that period life expectancy at birth during the Great Depression remains within the interval expected from history. Additional analyses support the robustness of the results. Findings diverge from an earlier report based on U.S. data and indicate that population health in many countries did not improve during the sharpest economic decline in the 20th century.

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Presented in Poster Session 5