As western governments tighten their budgetary belts, they are experimenting with their nations’ economies as well as with the health of their citizens, according to recent research on how austerity policies could affect our genetic makeup. “It is plausible that protracted economic hardship will lead to increases in heart attacks, strokes and depression. Stress hormones are known to trigger or exacerbate these conditions, and it is hard to argue that those worrying about the security of their jobs, homes, families and finances are not experiencing high levels of stress.” Stress experienced by younger generations may affect society for decades to come.
What’s the Big Idea?
While hard economic times have historically coincided with war, there is a psychological boost that works to unite populations against a common enemy. This in-group phenomenon, which helps relieve the stress of social isolation, is less present during economic hardship in peacetime. “Much ink has been spilled debating the fiscal merits of austerity. Its effects on health, on the other hand, have gone largely undiscussed, the assumption being that they will dissipate as the belt-tightening does. But if genetic responses to stress have long-term effects, perhaps lasting for generations, politicians must reconsider solutions to what they see as a purely economic crisis.”