Working Papers

Lifecycle Effects of a Recession on Health Behaviors: Boom, Bust, and Recovery in Iceland

Tinna Laufey Àsgeirsdòttir, Hope Corman, Kelly Noonan, Nancy E. Reichman

This study uses individual-level longitudinal data from Iceland, a country that experienced a severe economic crisis in 2008 and substantial recovery by 2012, to investigate the extent to which the effects of a recession on health behaviors are lingering or short-lived and to explore trajectories in health behaviors from pre-crisis boom, to crisis, to recovery. Health-compromising behaviors (smoking, heavy drinking, sugared soft drinks, sweets, fast food, and tanning) declined during the crisis, and all but sweets continued to decline during the recovery. Health-promoting behaviors (consumption of fruit, fish oil, and vitamin/minerals and getting recommended sleep) followed more idiosyncratic paths. Overall, most behaviors reverted back to their pre-crisis levels or trends during the recovery, and these short-term deviations in trajectories were probably too short-lived in this recession to have major impacts on health or mortality. A notable exception is for alcohol consumption, which declined dramatically during the crisis years, continued to fall (at a slower rate) during the recovery, and did not revert back to the pre-crisis upward trend during our observation period. These lingering effects, which directionally run counter to the pre-crisis upward trend, suggest that alcohol is a potential pathway by which recessions improve health and/or reduce mortality.

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Paper Keywords

recessions, health behaviors, Iceland, economic crisis, economic recovery