A Sudden Loss of Wealth Increases Your Chances of Death

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When people lose 75% or more of their wealth, they are 50% more likely to die early than people whose wealth remains steady, according to new research.

In the study, published Tuesday in the journal JAMA, researchers examined how losing financial stability impacts a person’s health over time. Lindsay Pool, a research assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and her colleagues looked at more than 8,700 people, ages 51-61, who were participating in a national study. The researchers looked at how experiencing a “negative wealth shock”—defined as losing 75% or more of their total asset value, including things like a pension, home or business, over two years—affected a person’s mortality.

Over a 20-year follow-up period, 25% of people experienced a negative wealth shock; those men and women were at a much higher risk for death from all causes.

“This is something millions of people go through,” says Pool. “It’s not really a rare event.”

The researchers also found that when they looked at a group of low-income adults, their risk of death over 20 years was 67%. Poverty is known to impact a person’s health and mortality, but the researchers were surprised that losing wealth had a similar impact on a person’s risk for early death as having no wealth to begin with. The link between financial loss and risk of death was also the same across people’s initial income levels. “This is not a study of the 1%,” says Pool.

The study did not look at how the loss of wealth directly impacted people’s health. However, “the hypothesis is that wealth shock is a stressful event, and chronic stress over the long-term can affect pretty much every organ system,” says Pool.

The findings have serious implications for many Americans who may undergo a financial crisis, and the research underscores the link between health and financial instability. “People don’t want to lose their jobs,” says Pool. It’s not on them, “but on policymakers to figure out a way to intervene.”

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