This analysis summarizes prior research and uses national, US state and county-level data from 1976 to 2013 to examine whether the mortality effects of economic crises differ in kind from those of the more typical fluctuations. The tentative conclusion is that economic crises affect mortality rates (and presumably other measures of health) in the same way as less severe downturns – leading to improvements in physical health. The effects of severe national recessions in the USA appear to have a beneficial effect on mortality that is roughly twice as strong as that predicted by the elevated unemployment rates alone, while the higher predicted rate of suicides during typical periods of economic weakness is approximately offset during severe recessions. No consistent pattern is obtained for more localized economic crises occurring at the state level – some estimates suggest larger protective mortality effects while others indicate offsetting deleterious consequences. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.