How important is hanging onto your job during a recession?

There’s a new paper in an open-access journal called eCancer Medical Science that is asking a really tough question about links between unemployment and risk for prostate cancer mortality in the European Union nations.

We need to be extremely cautious about interpreting the data presented in this paper by Maruthappu et al. (see also this summary on the ScienceDaily web site), but on the other hand, the research team is asking the type of question that may be very important from a socioeconomic and a societal perspective (not to mention an individual and personal one for patients).

Basically, what they have shown is that in at least some of the nations of the European Union there has been a clearly identifiable association between unemployment and risk for prostate cancer mortality during the recent recession. Their conclusion is relatively straightforward:

The 2008 recession led to a rapid decline in the GDP of many member countries of the OECD, the economies of many of which have yet to recover. This event has raised the question of how macroeconomic variations may impact cancer outcomes. Our study has shown that increases in aggregate unemployment are associated with significantly worse prostate cancer mortality in OECD countries. Our study may thus be seen as a first examination of the important prostate cancer-related consequences of the economic crisis.

As we have noted previously (and on numerous occasions), an association does not necessarily imply a cause and and effect at all — even for relatively simple things like whether patients do or don’t exhibit a particular gene in their tumor cells. It is therefore going to be a great deal more difficult to determine whether something as complex as national unemployment is really a causative factor for increased prostate cancer-specific mortality … but what this study does absolutely show us is where the future of some research into macro-economics and health will be heading over the next 30 to 40 years.

One Response

  1. The quote’s first sentence is misleading. Although the Credit Crunch began late in 2007, national economies are not recovering from it. The Crunch was a crisis of effective demand that began in America. If you have little money, you cannot buy stuff, and your propensity to do so decreases. There is less demand for stuff. Industry suffers; less stuff is produced, prices can rise, and there is even less total demand for it: a destructive circle that Keynes saw could be broken by government stimuli into it. This did not happen. By 2012 at latest all Western economies suffered from state-imposed austerity, one opposite of stimulus: cuts, move towards smaller state apparatus, are two austerity policies. So recovery from the Crunch was halted; poverty and joblessness continued and are still prominent. This is what governments want today, all of them. If that is true, and if the prostate correlation has causal bases, it might well continue, as a demand crisis was followed by impoverishing austerity and its possible medical consequences, a state that government, business, and the banks wish to continue. Persistence of causal factors might guarantee their ongoing correlation with prostate cancer.

    This might sound dismal and conspiritorial. Much has been written about this though. One good book is The Precariat, by the British labour economist Guy Standing. He summarises his and others’ findings in a detailed YouTube lecture of that name.

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