You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

Debt and death — are they partners?

It is sometimes said that economics is just common sense made difficult.

Like many jokes, there’s an element of truth there. Which is why it may not seem like a brave and piercing insight say that higher financial stress and mortality – in short, debt and death – may sometimes go together.

But like much of what passes for common sense, it might be a good idea to fact-check it, ‘cuz it ain’t always true. (Think about what Columbus, say, had to do in his real-life test of the prevailing wisdom. Think about how even the evidence didn’t help poor Galileo.)

Anyhow, to evaluate common sense requires a little more than a casual glance at the charts.

So three economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta have done the in-depth, math-centric look at the data – examining 170,000 credit reports — and sure enough, they say, there is good reason to believe that higher debt and the pressure it puts on people seems to match up with accelerated rates of mortality.

The paper was just released. The researchers were Laura Argys, Andrew Friedson, and Melinda Pitts.

Stress, they argue, can make you sick. Physically, sure. But also mentally. It can send you to doctors, emergency rooms, therapists or – for that matter – your local drug pusher.

I mean, that’s common sense, right?

Now, the Fed researchers don’t put a number on it – at least, they don’t say up front how many people a bad economy has killed. But they say that if you don’t think about that, you don’t realize how much good you can do – and how much money you can save — by helping people in hard times. That is, the benefits are not just to household balance sheets or government deficits.

It’s keeping people alive and healthy, or at least, healthier.

But they take a hard look at the financial trauma of the Great Recession and concluded that yes, indeed. It was not just awful for all the obvious reasons – the loss of millions of homes and jobs, the bankruptcies and continued suffering – it was also correlated with more people dying.

And that’s not a joke.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Business

Classic Barbie gets a 21st century makeover into Hologram Barbie
Classic Barbie gets a 21st century makeover into Hologram Barbie

Mattel has unveiled its newest version of the classic Barbie doll, only it’s not really a doll. It’s a holographic image of a Barbie in a box. The toymaker showed off the new virtual doll, Hello Barbie Hologram, at the annual Toy Fair in New York over the weekend. The new 21st century virtual Barbie is like a Siri or Alexa, only for kids...
Kempner: Losing our Fortune 500 companies should be a clue
Kempner: Losing our Fortune 500 companies should be a clue

Long ago, my fellow Gwinnett voters treated the idea of letting MARTA into the county a bit like suggesting someone put a fire ant on our dinner plate. Gwinnett chairman Charlotte Nash has a clear memory of this. But now Nash says she will push for a new public referendum on transit — though she said she doesn’t know if it would include...
Better than a toaster: Cash to open a bank account
Better than a toaster: Cash to open a bank account

You won’t likely be awarded with a toaster these days when you open a checking account, but a surprising number of banks are offering something even better — Benjamins. Do a little digging, and you’ll learn that several national and local banks are offering $100, $200, even $350 to eligible would-be banking customers to open checking...
Popeyes to be acquired by Burger King parent
Popeyes to be acquired by Burger King parent

Atlanta-based Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen is being acquired for $1.8 billion by the Canadian company that owns Burger King. Restaurant Brands International announced the planned purchase Tuesday. Popeyes chose the RBI offer over a competing offer from Arby’s Restaurant Group, another Atlanta-based fast food chain, according to a Bloomberg report...
Court rules Snuggies are blankets, not clothing
Court rules Snuggies are blankets, not clothing

A federal trade court decision has ended the debate on whether Snuggies are blankets or apparel. The court ruled that a Snuggie is a blanket for tariff purposes, and should not face the higher apparel duty rate as the Department of Justice contended. The ruling was handed down Feb. 10, according to Bloomberg. The judge in the case ruled that Snuggies...
More Stories