A new working paper by economists from MIT, the University of Chicago, and McMaster University in Canada finds that higher unemployment during the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009 reduced mortality rates. "These estimates imply that the Great Recession provided one in twenty five 55-year-olds with an extra year of life," they write.
They think the main mechanism is not that out-of-work people have more time to go to the gym and cook health meals, or less money to spend on cigarettes and beer, or that nursing homes have an easier time hiring better staff during a recession; instead, they say a big factor seems to be "recession-induced declines in air pollution."
They caution that their focus on mortality "may miss...important non-mortality health impacts, particularly at younger ages where mortality may be a worse proxy for overall health."
The National Bureau of Economic Research working paper is "Lives Versus Livelihoods: The Impact of the Great Recession on Mortality and Welfare," by Amy Finkelstein, Matthew Notowidigdo, Frank Schilbach, and Jonathan Zhang.