It turns out that death rates fall during recessions. I posted in January on how some had speculated that people eat better during recessions, but in fact people seem to eat worse food. Now I can report that people also get less exercise during recessions:
Mining has actually increased during the downturn, it is one of the few economic bright spots, but I think the number of people employed in mining is a very small proportion of workforce.
Unemployment/underemployment => more sleep, less stress perhaps (and less stress hormones).
Though obviously the first part of figuring out recession mortality is decomposing the mortality changes into those experienced by the newly unemployed and those who still have jobs but are working fewer hours.
While I was going to UVa and working a graveyard shift, I lived for about a year on frozen burritos and expired hot pockets. This did not greatly increase my chance of dying in the short-run, during this recession, but may affect my life expectancy (although I am confident in the future progress of longevity science). Some things mentioned above are significant: miles driven, work related and other accidental deaths, less disease (decreased travel and leisure). I'm interested how growth in life expectancy fluctuates during recession.
Time article Robin cites
Well, at least there sounds like there is one positive in all of this mess.
How much does sleep correlate with death rates?
I think that's only true if the nutrition is good.
Type of exercise may matter significantly. Exercise one gets at work is designed to optimize getting one's job done - health is in no way a goal. Recreational exercise is often directly aligned with health and may be less based around pure repetition of unergonomic movements - like repeatedly picking up and moving boxes or the like. I'd think breaking down the numbers by profession might provide some insight into this.
It seems like both injuries and infectious disease would go down if people stay home from work.
Lower incomes translate into less tobacco, less alcohol, less harder drugs.
If this is the mechanism, then higher taxes would be expected to save lives too. ;)
I don't think that on-the-job deaths (that is, job-caused deaths which occur within the time-scales of a recession rather than chronic lifetime) make up a large enough fraction of deaths to explain this. On-the-job deaths are rare, and I think it makes a lot more sense to look at how the recession effects risk factors for the much more likely causes of death: heart disease, cancer, etc.
This is what I wondered, too.
Maybe job-related stress is worse than the stress of being unemployed?
Do we know how suicide rates are affected?
People who are laid off are likely to try and use up their remaining medical benefits before they expire. That pulse of medical care as people become unemployed may be enough to drop death rates for the duration of short recession.
It may not be the type of food, but the quantity. Calorie deprivation is perhaps the surest way to extend lifespan.