A big financial loss may shorten your life, a new study suggests. Middle-aged Americans who experienced a sudden, large economic blow were more likely to die during the following years than those who didn't. The heightened danger of death after a devastating loss, which researchers called a "wealth shock," crossed socio-economic lines, affecting people no matter how much money they had to start. "This is really a story about everybody," said lead researcher Lindsay Pool of Northwestern University's medical school. Stress, delays in health care, substance abuse, and suicides may contribute, she said. "Policymakers should pay attention." Overall, wealth shock was tied with a 50% greater risk of dying, although the study, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, couldn't prove a cause-and-effect connection.
Researchers analyzed two decades of data from the Health and Retirement Study, which checks in every other year with a group of people in their 50s and 60s and keeps track of who dies. About 1 in 4 people in the study had a wealth shock, which researchers defined as a loss of 75% or more in net worth over two years. The average loss was about $100,000. That could include a drop in the value of investments or realized losses like a home foreclosure; the effect was more marked if the person lost a home as part of the wealth shock, reports the AP. The findings suggest a wealth shock is as dangerous as a new diagnosis of heart disease, wrote Dr. Alan Garber of Harvard University in an accompanying editorial, noting that doctors need to recognize how money hardships may affect their patients.