Does austerity really kill?

Veronica Toffolutti, Marc Suhrcke

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A growing body of the literature has argued that austerity has been bad for health, though without directly measuring austerity. This paper explicitly distinguishes the association of mortality with macroeconomic fluctuations from that with fiscal policy measures, using data for 28 European Union (EU) countries covering the period 1991–2013. The main results present a nuanced, complex picture about the mortality impact of fiscal policies. We confirm the mortality decreasing (increasing) effect of recessions (booms), with the exception of suicide mortality, which shows the opposite effects. Austerity regimes are associated with an increase in all-cause mortality (0.7%). At the same time, fiscal stimuli tend to significantly increase death rates due to cirrhosis or chronic liver disease (3%) and those due to vehicle accidents (4.3%). Our results are sensitive to the set of countries included: when excluding the Baltics, Romania and Hungary, austerity policies turn out to significantly increase suicide-related mortality (2.8%), while the effect on all-cause mortality remains unaffected (0.7%). Overall, however it appears that the austerity-increasing effects are mostly compensated by the (mostly) mortality-decreasing effects of recessions. A notable exception appears to be suicides, which receive a ‘double-boost’ from both recessions and austerity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211-223
JournalEconomics and Human Biology
Early online date4 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019

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©2019 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy.


  • Austerity
  • Recession and health
  • Socioeconomic determinants of health

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