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Socioeconomic Decline and Death: Midlife Impacts of Graduating in a Recession (WP-20-02)

Hannes Schwandt and Till von Wachter

This paper uses several large cross-sectional data sources and a new approach to estimate midlife effects of entering the labor market in a recession on mortality by cause and various measures of socioeconomic status. The researchers find that cohorts coming of age during the deep recession of the early 1980s suffer increases in mortality that appear in their late 30s and further strengthen through age 50. They show these mortality impacts are driven by disease-related causes such as heart disease, lung cancer, and liver disease, as well as drug overdoses. At the same time, unlucky middle-aged labor market entrants earn less and work more while receiving less welfare support. They are also less likely to be married, more likely to be divorced, and experience higher rates of childlessness. The findings demonstrate that temporary disadvantages in the labor market during young adulthood can have substantial impacts on lifetime outcomes, can affect life and death in middle age, and go beyond the transitory initial career effects typically studied.

Hannes Schwandt, Assistant Professor of Human Development and Social Policy and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

Till von Wachter, Professor of Economics, University of California Los Angeles

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