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Losing Your Wealth Is Bad for Your Health

Sudden financial loss after age 50 may result in earlier death

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A new study shows that older adults who lose more than 75 percent of their retirement nest egg are more likely to die.

En español |  Sudden loss of wealth in middle or older age could be bad for your health.

A long-term study by Northwestern Medicine and the University of Michigan found that people who lose 75 percent or more of their wealth after age 50 were 50 percent more likely todie within 20 years than those whose financial picture stayed more stable.

The study, published in JAMA, is the first to examine the long-term effects of a major financial loss. Begun in 1992, it followed more than 8,000 American adults older than 50, as well as a group of low-income people who had never accumulated wealth, a group that had an increased mortality risk of 67 percent.

“The most surprising finding was that having wealth and losing it is almost as bad for your life expectancy as never having wealth,” said lead author Lindsay Pool, a research assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern's School of Medicine.

Because of the length of the study, researchers were able to follow participants as they maneuvered through the Great Recession in the late 2000s. In all, more than 25 percent of Americans experienced a major wealth shock during the study period. In the wake of the recession, a number of studies showed the detrimental health effects of financial loss in the short term. But the Northwestern study shows that a steep financial loss can be a harbinger of health over the long term as well.

"These people suffer a mental health toll because of the financial loss, as well as pulling back from medical care because they can't afford it," Pool said.

While the study found a strong association between financial loss and death, Pool said the physical causes will be the next subject of study for the researchers. What they want to know: "Why are people dying, and can we intervene at some point in a way that might reverse the course of that increased risk?"

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