The Psychological Effect of a Bad Economy

The last two years have been tough on the world. Along with an ever-present pandemic has come economic uncertainty. Aside from the stress and emotional pain we are feeling, is there physical pain too? A new study looked in to just that.

The study wanted to investigate the connection between physical pain and the economy. The researchers used international survey data from 15 countries, across a 15-year time period, from 2005-2018. They examined respondents self-reported physical pain and the unemployment rate.

The researchers found that when the unemployment rate was low, so was self-reported physical pain, and likewise when the unemployment rate was high, so was self-reported physical pain. Two interesting results were found, women were more affected during these times and they were more pronounced in richer countries.


The authors of the paper posit some potential explanations for women being more affected.  “Potential explanations… include potential roles, in harsh economic times, for increased domestic abuse and violence, greater exploitation of vulnerable kinds of employees, physical injuries resulting from criminal activity, and physiological effects from the consumption of cheaper and less healthy kinds of food. Future research may be able to explore whether there is evidence for such pathways.”


They go on to explain the importance of understanding the connection from emotional/psychological factors to physical pain. “One feasible, and perhaps plausible, way to account for this study’s patterns is that there is a link between mental stress and physical pain,” say the researchers. “Human beings who are anxious and under psychological strain may be intrinsically tense, and susceptible to illness, and thus they might report (and feel) greater physical pain.”

Original article:

Research: Macchia, L., & Oswald, A. J. (2021). Physical pain, gender, and the state of the economy in 146 nations. Social Science & Medicine, 287, 114332.

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