Association of a Negative Wealth Shock With All-Cause Mortality in Middle-aged and Older Adults in the United States

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Abstract

Importance

A sudden loss of wealth—a negative wealth shock—may lead to a significant mental health toll and also leave fewer monetary resources for health-related expenses. With limited years remaining to regain lost wealth in older age, the health consequences of these negative wealth shocks may be long-lasting.

Objective

To determine whether a negative wealth shock was associated with all-cause mortality during 20 years of follow-up.

Design, Setting, and Participants

The Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative prospective cohort study of US adults aged 51 through 61 years at study entry. The study population included 8714 adults, first assessed for a negative wealth shock in 1994 and followed biennially through 2014 (the most recent year of available data).

Exposures

Experiencing a negative wealth shock, defined as a loss of 75% or more of total net worth over a 2-year period, or asset poverty, defined as 0 or negative total net worth at study entry.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Mortality data were collected from the National Death Index and postmortem interviews with family members. Marginal structural survival methods were used to account for the potential bias due to changes in health status that may both trigger negative wealth shocks and act as the mechanism through which negative wealth shocks lead to increased mortality.

Results

There were 8714 participants in the study sample (mean [SD] age at study entry, 55 [3.2] years; 53% women), 2430 experienced a negative wealth shock during follow-up, 749 had asset poverty at baseline, and 5535 had continuously positive wealth without shock. A total of 2823 deaths occurred during 80 683 person-years of follow-up. There were 30.6 vs 64.9 deaths per 1000 person-years for those with continuously positive wealth vs negative wealth shock (adjusted hazard ratio [HR], 1.50; 95% CI, 1.36-1.67). There were 73.4 deaths per 1000 person-years for those with asset poverty at baseline (adjusted HR, 1.67; 95% CI, 1.44-1.94; compared with continuously positive wealth).

Conclusions and Relevance

Among US adults aged 51 years and older, loss of wealth over 2 years was associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality. Further research is needed to better understand the possible mechanisms for this association and determine whether there is potential value for targeted interventions.

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