With more accidents at work and on the road during expansions, expansions have more deaths by such accidents, and recessions have fewer. It turns out that the business cycle for suicides is more than offset by the business cycle for other deaths. Mortality and the unemployment rate are negatively correlated. Christopher J. Ruhm, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Virginia, has looked at all causes of death and found that most of them – suicide was the exception – occur less frequently at the depths of the business cycle.
Peter Orszag adds:
Taken together, the evidence suggests that a combination of forces contribute to the increase in life expectancy during times of higher unemployment: Motor vehicle deaths decline, people tend to avoid unhealthy behavior, air pollution is diminished, and nursing home staffing improves.
None of which should make us wish for economic trouble. Higher unemployment means loss of productivity, lower income and mental anguish, and those are more than sufficient reasons to combat joblessness. There may be some small consolation, though, in learning that it probably doesn’t harm human health the way that we all imagined.