July 2013

IZA DP No. 7538: Health and Health Behaviors during the Worst of Times: Evidence from the Great Recession

forthcoming in: Review of Economics of the Household, 2018

While previous studies have shown that recessions are associated with better health outcomes and behaviors, the focus of these studies has been on the relatively milder recessions of the late 20th century. In this paper, we examine if the previously established counter-cyclical pattern in health and heath behaviors is held during the Great Recession. Using data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) between 2005 and 2011 and focusing on a wide range of outcomes capturing health and health behaviors, we show that the association between economic deterioration and these outcomes has weakened considerably during the recent recession. In fact, majority of our estimates indicate that the relationship has practically become zero, though subtle differences exist among various sub-populations. Our results are consistent with the evidence emerging from several recent studies that suggests that the relationship between economic activity and health and health behaviors has become less noticeable in the recent years.