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Physical pain, gender, and the state of the economy in 146 nations

Macchia, L. ORCID: 0000-0001-9558-4747 & Oswald, A. J. (2021). Physical pain, gender, and the state of the economy in 146 nations. Social Science & Medicine, 287, 114332. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2021.114332

Abstract

Rationale
Physical pain is one of the most severe of human experiences. It is thus one of the most important to understand.

Objective
This paper reports the first cross-country study of the links between physical pain and the state of the economy. A key issue examined is how the level of pain in a society is influenced by the unemployment rate.

Methods
The study uses pooled cross-sectional Gallup data from 146 countries (total N > 1.3 million). It estimates fixed-effects regression equations that control for personal characteristics.

Results
More than a quarter of the world's citizens are in physical pain. Physical pain is lower in an economic boom and greater in an economic downturn. Estimated effect sizes are substantial. Remarkably, increases in pain are borne almost exclusively by women and found principally in rich nations. These findings have paradoxical aspects. The counter-cyclicality of physical pain is not what would be predicted by conventional economic analysis: during an expansion, people typically work harder and longer, and accidents and injuries increase. Nor are the study results due to unemployed citizens experiencing more pain (although they do). Instead, the study's findings are consistent with an important hypothesis proposed recently, using different kinds of evidence, by brain and behavioural-science researchers (e.g., Wiech and Tracey, 2009; Chou et al.; 2016). The hypothesis is that economic worry can create physical pain.

Conclusions
This study provides the first cross-country evidence that the level of physical pain in a nation depends on the state of the economy. Pain is high when the unemployment rate is high. That is not because of greater pain among people who lose their jobs — it extends far beyond that into wider society. The increase in physical pain in a downturn is experienced disproportionately by women.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2021. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/
Publisher Keywords: Physical pain, Unemployment, State of the economy, Gender, Business Cycle
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Departments: School of Arts & Social Sciences > Psychology
[img] Text - Accepted Version
This document is not freely accessible until 21 August 2022 due to copyright restrictions.
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

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