The Physiological Impacts of Wealth Shocks in Late Life: Evidence from the Great Recession

Courtney Boen, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Yang Claire Yang, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Given documented links between individual socioeconomic status (SES) and health, it is likely that—in addition to its impacts on individuals’ wallets and bank accounts—the Great Recession may have also taken a toll on individuals’ disease and mortality risk. Utilizing nationally representative, longitudinal data and individual fixed effects models, this study examines how household-level wealth shocks experienced during the Great Recession relate to changes in biophysiological functioning in older adults. Results indicate that wealth shocks significantly predicted changes in immune and metabolic functioning, such that losses in net worth were associated with increased physiological dysregulation. Further, the associations between wealth shocks and the outcomes were not attenuated with the inclusion of other indicators of SES in analytic models. Linking macro-level conditions and micro-level biological processes, this study provides new insights into the mechanisms through which economic inequality contributes to disease and mortality risk in late life.

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Presented in Session 109: Health Implications of the Great Recession