Safety and OSHA News

Economic growth actually kills people

For a couple of decades, statistics have shown that people die faster during an economic upswing. Now some researchers think they know why. 

It’s the environment.

Occupational hazards play a part (we’ll get to that shortly). But the No. 1 reason is pollution.

The researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) looked at over 200 years of data from 32 countries.

First they confirmed that when a country’s economic output (gross national product or GDP) is 5% higher than expected, adults are about 1% more likely to die.

But hasn’t mortality increased as more and more countries become industrialized?

Yes, but it’s a tad more complicated than that.

While countries are still agrarian, economic growth improves health.

But when a country’s economy comes to depend on manufacturing, a flip-flop occurs.

When industrialized economies boom, pollution also increases rapidly. This accounts for as much as two-thirds of the increase in mortality.

The second biggest factor: alcohol-related mortality. People drink more, causing health problems and accidental deaths.

How about occupational hazards? The researchers say they’re a factor, too. People work more and are exposed to occupational hazards more often.

Increased driving during a boom period is a factor, too.

Glass half full or …

So, what’s the take-home here? Should everyone who wants to live longer hope for economic downturns?

Of course not. The researchers say you have to manage the downsides.

“If the pollution doesn’t kill you in the short run, then in the long run the increased income will help you live longer,” researcher Adriana Lleras-Muney tells The Washington Post.

The research shows that countries with better social safety nets are good at protecting people from the health consequences of booms and downturns.

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