It seems counterintuitive, but research shows that death rates rise when economic times are good. The reasons for this aren't clear, but negative health effects from overwork or work-related behavior have been cited as possible causes. A recent paper from the University of California, Davis suggests a different explanation. The report's thesis: Deaths among the elderly rise in robust economic times because frontline caregivers in nursing homes leave for better-paying jobs elsewhere, which can compromise care given to the elderly in those facilities.

According to the report, which was summarized in a brief on the Web site of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, past research has shown that employment levels in the health-care sector drop during economic expansions as nursing aides and home health workers cash in on a thriving job market. The paper says that a four-point decline in the total unemployment rate (indicative of an economic boom cycle) causes a 12% drop in nursing home staffing levels. The researchers found that death rates during strong economic periods were higher in states with a larger percentage of residents living in nursing homes, and were particularly higher among women (who live longer than men and might be living out their years in a nursing home).

The authors are all with the University of California, Davis. Ann Huff Stevens is an economics professor and director of the Center for Poverty Research. Douglas L. Miller is an assistant professor of economics. Marianne Page is a professor of economics. Mateusz Filipski is a postdoctoral scholar in the agricultural and resource economics department.