Recessions Good for Male Health but Bad for Females

Boys who leave school or university during a recession experience better health in later life compared to those that leave during an economic “boom.” In girls, however, the situation is reversed. Females have poorer health in later life if they leave school during a time of recession.

The study by economists at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) was published at the same time as figures which show Eurozone youth unemployment to be as high as 24.4%.

The paper: “Are economic recessions at the time of leaving school associated with worse physical functioning in later life?” is published in the journal Annals of Epidemiology.

The study's findings are indicative of the future health of the generation who now face joining the labour market in a time of global recession.  

Phillipp Hessell, LSE economist and lead researcher, comments; 

“The recent financial crisis has led to a sharp increase in youth unemployment rates in many European countries, with Spain and Greece experiencing rates as high as 40 per cent for those under 25."    

Recession good for boys - bad for girls. Why?

Researchers suggest that the difference in male and female health in response to the recession is simple - it all comes down to economics and the place we typically take within the family unit. 

In a recession, men join the labour market or are excluded, yet have less money to smoke, drink alcohol or over eat - unwittingly adopting a healthy lifestyle. It is thought that a temporary economic downturn can also provides more time for sport and physical activity.  

It is the permanent changes in lifestyle in early adulthood that provides an explanation for why men fare better in recessions. 

In addition to the positive effect on lifestyle and activity, recession can also encourage some men to become more motivated to achieve and to become independent earlier, leading to better long-term career prospects, and therefore better health.

Women, however, will tend to marry younger and have children if leaving school during a recession - thereby leaving the labour market earlier.  

This action was seen to lead to poor long-term career prospects and worse long-term health.

However, the study did not analyse if male and female health differed if both genders joined the labour market during a recession, concentrating only on the trajectory of women who start a family earlier in times of recession.

Vulnerable to poverty 

Economists found that women who left the labour market earlier to marry and raise a family were likely to work part-time, or never enter the labour market at all.  

These two factors increased women's vulnerability to poverty, especially in the event of a divorce. Not only did the impact of working part-time or periods of non-work reduce their earning potential in the labour market, but they were without the financial resources accumulated during a career.  

Lost in transition

In light of the high unemployment figures, lead researcher Phillipp Hessel warns of a "lost generation" that will struggle with the transitionary period from education to work, adding that the global economic downturn will play out differently for women than for men. Phillipp Hessell adds; 

"Recent reports have warned of the emergence of a “lost generation” of young people who are unable to make the transition from education to work and who will therefore suffer poor future career prospects and substantial earning losses up to 15 years after leaving school or university. This research has, for the first time, shown that youth unemployment appears to affect the long-term health of men and women quite differently.” 
The research shows that health may be more vulnerable to recessions if it is experienced during specific sensitive periods in the life- course of the individual. Transition periods for young people can affect young people, not just at the time, but later in life too.  

Source: Are economic recessions at the time of leaving school associated with worse physical functioning in later life?