Health and health behaviors during the great recession: a note on drinking, smoking, obesity, and physical activity


Previous studies have shown that recessions are typically associated with better health and health behaviors. With the exception of a few recent studies however, these studies focus on sample periods that end prior to the Great Recession. The few exceptions that extend the analysis period beyond the Great Recession suggest that the pro-cyclical relationship between macroeconomic conditions and mortality obtained in earlier studies might have weakened over time. In this paper, we revisited the relationship between state unemployment rate and a large set of outcomes of health and health behaviors using data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) between 1990 and 2014. Overall, our results suggest that state unemployment rate is weakly related to both health and health behaviors as our estimates are too small to have any meaningful implications, although they are largely imprecisely estimated. Finally, we tested whether the Great Recession played a significant role in influencing the pattern in the relationship between unemployment rate and health and health behaviors. Our results from this analysis do not reveal any measurable recession effect, although the estimates are again largely imprecise.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    A description of the literature on the relationship between macroeconomic conditions and health and health behaviors can be found in Tekin et al. (2013).

  2. 2.

    Note however that the sample size for each regression slightly differs from the baseline sample size due to the number of observations in the outcome variables.

  3. 3.

    The full set of results from the analyses using the employment measure are presented in Tekin et al. (2013).

  4. 4.

    Note that we also estimate unweighted regressions. These results are similar to those presented here and are available from the authors upon request.

  5. 5.

    Note that we performed this analysis using 5-year and 10-year periods as well. While the overall pattern from these estimations are similar to those from the analysis using the 15-year year window, the estimates were somewhat noisier. This is consistent with Ruhm (2015), who concludes from his analyses of the relationship between unemployment and mortality using similar methods that the estimates could be too noisy to be informative when analysis periods are too short. The results from these estimations were presented in Tekin et al. (2013).

  6. 6.

    These results from these analyses are presented in Tekin et al. (2013).


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Erdal Tekin gratefully acknowledges support from the Gary and Stacey Jacobs Fellowship.

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Correspondence to Erdal Tekin.

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Tekin, E., McClellan, C. & Minyard, K.J. Health and health behaviors during the great recession: a note on drinking, smoking, obesity, and physical activity. Rev Econ Household 16, 1017–1026 (2018).

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  • Health
  • Recession
  • Unemployment
  • Smoking
  • Obesity

JEL Classification

  • E32
  • I10
  • I12
  • I14
  • I15