Loss of life savings is a killer, say researchers: Health Study [Europe Region]

TitleLoss of life savings is a killer, say researchers: Health Study [Europe Region]
Publication TypeWeb Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsCookson, C
Access Year2018
Access DateMay 8, 2018
PublisherFinancial Times
CityLondon, UK
ISSN Number03071766
KeywordsCardiovascular disease, Life Expectancy, Mortality, Savings
Citation Key9604
Full Text

People who suddenly lose most of their wealth die significantly younger than those who keep their assets, according to a US study relating health to financial changes during middle and old age.

Researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Michigan reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that people who lose three-quarters or more of their total wealth within a two-year period are 50 per cent more likely to die in the next 20 years.

This rise in mortality risk "is similar to the increase associated with a new diagnosis of coronary heart disease", said Alan Garber, professor of health policy at Harvard University.

"We found losing your life savings has a profound effect on a person's longterm health," said Lindsay Pool of Northwestern, the study's lead author. "The most surprising finding was that having wealth and losing it is almost as bad for your life expectancy as never having wealth."

There is a large body of evidence showing poorer people suffer more illness and die younger than their richer counterparts, but little was previously known about the long-term health consequences of what the researchers call "negative wealth shocks", such as a sharp fall in value of a home or investment portfolio or a business failure.

They analysed data from 8,700 participants in the US National Institute on Aging health and retirement study. This follows the health and financial circumstances of a representative group of Americans aged 51 to 61.

As far as possible the authors excluded factors likely to trigger a sudden loss of wealth, such as pre-existing illness, loss of employment or marital disruption, in order to isolate the actual health impact of the wealth shock itself.

The likely causes of the increased death risk fall into two categories. One is the direct health impact of rapid impoverishment, such as increasing stress hormone levels, loss of psychological balance, and excessive drinking and other substance abuse.

The other, particularly applicable under the US healthcare system, is no longer being able to pay for adequate medical treatment.

"These people suffer a mental health toll because of the financial loss as well as pulling back from medical care because they can't afford it," said Ms Pool. Doctors need to be sensitive to patients' financial circumstances, she added: "It's something they need to ask about, to understand if their patients may be at an increased health risk."

The researchers will investigate the mechanisms that can turn a big financial loss into a killer, asking "why are people dying, and can we intervene at some point in a way that might reverse the course of that increased risk", Ms Pool added.

'Having wealth and losing it is almost as bad for your life expectancy as never having wealth'