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Economic Boom Periods Curb Men’s Lives, Study Finds

Elderly Men in Spain
The Dutch study's authors found that mortality increased 0.4 percent in men aged 70 to 74 with every 1 percent gain in GDP. Photographer: Antonio Heredia/Bloomberg

A booming economy doesn’t only bring good news.

Death rates among middle aged and older people -- men especially -- turn out to be higher in periods of expansion, according to a study published today in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The Dutch study’s authors compared official statistics for gross domestic product and mortality rates in 19 developed countries, including the U.S., the U.K., Japan and Australia, between 1950 and 2008. They found that mortality increased 0.4 percent in men aged 70 to 74 with every 1 percent gain in GDP. The same was true for men aged 40 to 44.

“In times of economic turmoil and population ageing, further exploration of the effects the economic environment can have on the well-being of older people is of great importance,” wrote the scientists, led by Herbert Rolden of the Leyden Academy on Vitality and Ageing in The Netherlands.

More research may be needed in part to explain the link between mortality and growth. Because the study contained both middle-aged and retirement-age subjects, the scientists said they could rule out a number of obvious connections.

“Traditional explanations such as work-stress and traffic accidents cannot explain our findings,” they wrote.

Similarly, an increase in pollution due to heavier traffic during expansion times should have the same impact on men and women. And the researchers found a more tenuous connection for females, with a 0.2 percent increase in mortality for every 1 percent GDP gain.

It’s possible that people who are active and employed may face more work demands and have less time left to offer social support and informal care to their older relatives during good economic times, the authors speculated.

Life expectancy in the U.S. is 79 years for a child born in 2011, according to the World Bank.

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