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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The impact of economic recession on maternal and infant mortality: lessons from history

Tim Ensor*, Stephanie Cooper, Lisa Davidson, Ann Fitzmaurice and Wendy J Graham

Author Affiliations

Immpact, School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:727  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-727

Published: 24 November 2010

Abstract

Background

The effect of the recent world recession on population health has featured heavily in recent international meetings. Maternal health is a particular concern given that many countries were already falling short of their MDG targets for 2015.

Methods

We utilise 20th century time series data from 14 high and middle income countries to investigate associations between previous economic recession and boom periods on maternal and infant outcomes (1936 to 2005). A first difference logarithmic model is used to investigate the association between short run fluctuations in GDP per capita (individual incomes) and changes in health outcomes. Separate models are estimated for four separate time periods.

Results

The results suggest a modest but significant association between maternal and infant mortality and economic growth for early periods (1936 to 1965) but not more recent periods. Individual country data display markedly different patterns of response to economic changes. Japan and Canada were vulnerable to economic shocks in the post war period. In contrast, mortality rates in countries such as the UK and Italy and particularly the US appear little affected by economic fluctuations.

Conclusions

The data presented suggest that recessions do have a negative association with maternal and infant outcomes particularly in earlier stages of a country's development although the effects vary widely across different systems. Almost all of the 20 least wealthy countries have suffered a reduction of 10% or more in GDP per capita in at least one of the last five decades. The challenge for today's policy makers is the design and implementation of mechanisms that protect vulnerable populations from the effects of fluctuating national income.