In a recent study, University of Michigan researchers find people in their 50s and older who suffer a catastrophic loss of wealth have a 50% higher risk of dying than those who do not have such loss.
The effect could last for two decades and it is the same no matter how wealthy the participants were.
In the study, the team looked at negative wealth shocks—the loss of 75 percent of a person’s wealth in a two-year period—and its impact on the risk of dying.
They used the data from the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative study of US adults ages 51-61 at study entry.
The cohort of 8,714 adults were assessed for negative wealth shock in 1994, with follow-up interviews every two years until 2014.
Average age at study entry was 55 years, with 53% identifying as female.
The researchers found among the participants, 90% reported having wealth, and 26%, of them experienced a negative wealth shock during that period.
On the other hand, 5,535 had continuously positive wealth without shock. During the same period, 2,823 participants died.
The team found those who had negative wealth shocks were more likely to be female, of nonwhite race/ethnicity, have lower levels of household income and net worth, and have poor health.
In addition, the 50% increased risk of mortality for those who experienced wealth shock was similar to the 67% increased risk of individuals living in poverty who have no net worth.
The most surprising findings are that the higher risk of death among those experiencing a negative wealth shock was almost as high as the higher risk of death for those who have no wealth in middle or older age.
This higher risk was apparent for a very long time—up to 20 years after the negative wealth shock.
The findings enrich the understanding of the critical role other social determinants such as low education, poverty, unemployment, and housing instability play in population health and health inequities.
Further research is needed to better understand the link between wealth shock and increased risk for mortality, and to determine whether there’s potential value for targeted interventions.
The senior researcher is Carlos Mendes de Leon.
The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
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