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Wealth Shock — Can Bankruptcy Cause Death? Research Says “Yes!”

a cartoon of a person experiencing negative wealth shock and facing three ghosts (depicting the stages of financial loss) as well as facing Death

A 20-year study of more than 8,000 Americans showed that the sudden loss of wealth can have an adverse effect on a person. The research was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association where it said that the impact of “negative wealth shock” may cause a person’s death. To note: Negative wealth shock is defined as the loss of at least 75 percent of a person’s assets—including pension fund, business or home—over a period of at most 2 years. The study was conducted at the Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University, IL. And it showed that those affected by the sudden drop in wealth had had a significant increase in risks of dying over the following 20 years.

The 8,714 respondents were between the ages of 51 and 61 from various parts of the United States. According to Lindsay Pool, the lead researcher of the team that conducted the study, “A 50 percent increased risk of mortality over a 20-year period is a lot.” (Pool is a research assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University.) She and her colleagues collected data on the respondents every 2 years between 1994 and 2014.

Effects of Wealth Shock

The researchers were surprised that 2,430 of the subjects had experienced negative wealth shock. These were compared with those who never had much wealth. Both groups had almost the same level of mortality risk. The researchers also tried to rule out the possibility that existing health problems which might have caused people to lose money in the first place and which might have already put them at risk of early death. After factoring that into the data, the researchers found that there was still a significant association between negative wealth shock and dying prematurely.

As a matter of fact, the findings showed that a person who would suddenly lose wealth would have an increased risk of premature death. The sudden financial loss could also cause depression, increased instances of hypertension, and other stress-related conditions. Plus one would most probably also no longer afford medical care including medications and doctor’s visits.

a photo showing a mountain climber hanging on the edge of mountain and a hand with bills as well as percentages that say the following data in relation to negative wealth shock: 75% Losing Their Wealth In 2 Years, 50% Increase Risk of Dying Over The next 2 Decades
People who experience negative wealth shock are at risk of premature death!

Effects Across Factors

Notably, the effect of negative wealth shock was more pronounced in women. And once financial loss had happened, they had the same level of risk of dying as the men. Other adjustments to the data were included to account for any bias due to marital changes, unemployment and health status.

Clearly, the connection between sudden loss of wealth and mortality persisted across the different models. Related to the findings was the case that a person’s chances of dying were higher if the loss of a house was involved or if the person had fewer assets.

The Bottomline of Wealth Shock

Harvard University’s Dr. Alan Garber wrote an accompanying editorial which said that wealth shock can be as dangerous as a heart disease diagnosis. He also noted that doctors needed to understand that money problem may affect a patient’s health. The director of the Virginia Commonwealth Center on Society and Health Dr. Steven Woolf said that it is important to prevent people from experiencing negative wealth shock. Moreover, the dean of the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago Katherine Baicker said that there is a need for more research to find out what to do about saving lives from wealth shock. (It is worth mentioning that both Woolf and Baicker were not involved in the study.)

This kind of data shows how sudden change or loss affects people negatively. And while further research and additional data are needed, the study proves to offer significant information which could be useful in addressing mental health or psychological issues. Indeed, the impact of negative wealth shock cannot be undermined because it has no ready remedy—and it is a case that heavily requires careful financial decisions.

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