Posts Tagged "accelerated aging"

Great Depression Holds Lesson for Our Time

Photograph by Lewis Hines, West Virginia 1937

Photograph by Lewis Hines, West Virginia 1937.

The Great Depression, sparked by a devastating collapse in stocks followed by 25 percent unemployment, remains the deepest recession in U.S. history.

A new study laying out the long-term negative impacts to Americans born during that time might be consequential for today’s youngest citizens –  teenagers born during the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009 and toddlers born in the midst of the steep COVID downturn in 2020.

The researchers found that the stresses and financial strains on parents from the Depression’s extraordinarily high unemployment over a protracted period of time did long-term damage to the health and careers of their children that persisted late into their lives. In a separate but related paper, they also found that people exposed to the Depression in utero experienced an acceleration in the aging process after age 75.

“The shock of the Great Depression was massive and everyone, no matter what group they belonged to, was to some extent impacted,” concluded the researchers, Valentina Duque and Lauren Schmitz.

For a whole host of reasons, a parent’s loss of income and joblessness have a huge impact on their children’s development and socioeconomic status, which in turn determine how they will do when they grow up. Prenatal stress on mothers, for example, has been linked to lower earnings for their offspring as adults. In utero stress also contributes to cognitive and behavioral problems late in life.

A father’s financial distress can harm the long-term health of children if the family can’t afford to buy nutritious groceries and quality healthcare or isn’t able to relocate to another part of the country with better job prospects.

To assess the Depression’s impact on health and careers, this study used a survey of older Americans. The researchers identified adults born in the 1930s to analyze how they fared late in their careers based on how severe the Depression was in the state where they were born or lived as young children.

The analysis, using IRS tax records, indicated that the offspring of the Depression’s parents living in states with larger declines in wages earned less throughout their careers – the impact in utero was larger than for the workers exposed to the Depression as young children.

The Depression created other deficiencies too: by the time the people born in more depressed states reached their 50s and early 60s, they were less productive and less attached to the labor force than their counterparts who grew up in states with stronger economies during that difficult time. They also had poorer health, were more often disabled, and had higher mortality due to health problems like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.Learn More