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Research: Dramatic Income Shifts Could Hurt Your Health

Fluctuations in income impact a person's ability to cover regular expenses, pay down debt or save for the future. (Vrulan/Twenty20.com)
Fluctuations in income impact a person's ability to cover regular expenses, pay down debt or save for the future. (Vrulan/Twenty20.com)
January 8, 2019

CHICAGO — Nearly 1-in-3 American households experiences a dramatic change in income each year, and new research reveals this volatility could have a serious impact on health.

Researchers collected data over a 15-year period from nearly 4,000 people living in four diverse U.S. cities, including Chicago. Study author Tali Elfassy, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Miami, said they found a connection between unpredictable variations in personal income during young adulthood and an increased risk of heart disease, or dying from any cause.

"Fluctuations in income are actually very common,” Elfassy said. “So almost 50 percent of the study population had changes in income, increases and decreases, across the study period."

Elfassy noted the largest income shifts were associated with nearly double the risk of death and more than double the risk for heart disease. The research also found high income volatility and income drops were experienced more by women and African-Americans than white men.

Elfassy said changes in personal income, especially drops in wages, make it difficult for families to cover regular expenses, pay down debt or save for the future.

"After you account for inflation, wages in the past 30 years have actually been relatively stagnant or even dropping,” she said. “And there aren't that many mechanisms in place that really help families deal with the increased burden associated with these financial woes."

The study was observational and not intended to prove cause and effect. However, Elfassy contended the health impacts of changes in personal income need further investigation.

"In particular, stress has been hypothesized to lead to adverse events and cardiovascular disease,” she said. “so if there are specific coping mechanisms that individuals or families might use to help them through these hard times, that's certainly something that we would want to look into."

The research was published Monday in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL