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Effects of the 2008 recession on health: a first look at European data


Stuckler, David; Basu, Sanjay; Suhrcke, Marc; Coutts, Adam; & McKee, Martin (2011). Effects of the 2008 recession on health: a first look at European data. Lancet, 378(9786), 124-125.


2 years ago, we published a paper in The Lancet reviewing the mortality experience of 26 European countries during economic crises over three decades. 1 We showed how increases in unemployment had been associated with increased suicides among people younger than 65 years and with fewer road-traffic fatalities (reflecting lower car use). On the basis of our analyses, we predicted that the economic crisis that began in summer, 2008, would have similar consequences. To what extent have our predictions been fulfilled? We can now offer a preliminary assessment based on data on mortality in several European countries for 2009.

We extracted mortality rate data by age-group and cause from the WHO European Health for All database,2 and adult unemployment trends from EUROSTAT.3 Unfortunately, complete data for the period 2000–09 are currently only available for 10 of the 27 European Union (EU) countries: six in the pre-2004 EU (Austria, Finland, Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the UK) and four in the post-2004 EU (Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, and Romania). We combined data from countries in each group, weighted by population size.

The figure shows changes in rates of adult unemployment and suicide in people aged 0–64 years in each part of the EU, indexed on 2007, the last complete year before the economic crisis. In both old and new EU Member States, official unemployment did not increase until 2009, after the banking crisis. Job loss then increased rapidly, to about 35% above the 2007 level in both parts of Europe (about 2·6 percentage points in the EU overall). However, the steady downward trend in suicide rates, seen in both groups of countries before 2007, reversed at once. The 2008 increase was less than 1% in the new Member States, but in the old ones it increased by almost 7%. In both, suicides increased further in 2009. Among the countries studied, only Austria had fewer suicides (down 5%) in 2009 than in 2007. In each of the other countries the increase was at least 5%. These changes are at the upper limit of the estimates in our 2009 paper,1 in which we noted that an increase in unemployment of more than 3% increased suicides in those younger than 65 years (by 4·45%, 95% CI 0·65–8·24).


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Stuckler, David
Basu, Sanjay
Suhrcke, Marc
Coutts, Adam
McKee, Martin