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


Boen, Courtney E. & Yang, Yang Claire (2016). The Physiological Impacts of Wealth Shocks in Late Life: Evidence from the Great Recession. Social Science & Medicine, 150, 221-230. PMCID: PMC4764349


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 also took a toll on individuals' disease and mortality risk. Exploiting a quasi-natural experiment design, this study utilizes nationally representative, longitudinal data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP) (2005-2011) (N = 930) and individual fixed effects models to examine 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 physiological functioning, such that losses in net worth from the pre-to the post-Recession period were associated with increases in systolic blood pressure and C-reactive protein over the six year period. Further, while the association between wealth shocks and changes in blood pressure was unattenuated with the inclusion of other indicators of SES, psychosocial well-being, and health behaviors in analytic models, we document some evidence of mediation in the association between changes in wealth and changes in C-reactive protein, which suggests specificity in the social and biophysiological mechanisms relating wealth shocks and health at older ages. Linking macro-level conditions, meso-level household environments, 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.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Social Science & Medicine


Boen, Courtney E.
Yang, Yang Claire