Professor’s study on Great Recession has unexpected results

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Dr. Lindsay Wilkinson

Abigail Loop
Staff Writer

While the Great Recession led many into financial strife, research by a Baylor professor shows some adults united through the tumultuous time to lessen their strain.

A study conducted by Dr. Lindsay Wilkinson, associate professor of sociology, discovered that adults between the ages of 51 and 96 experienced a decrease in their financial strain during the longest recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The Great Recession occurred between the years 2007 to 2009, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Wilkinson used data for her research previously collected by the Health and Retirement Study sponsored by the National Institute of Aging. She applied it to the years the Great Recession took place and compared results in 2006 and 2010.

“I drew on a sample of 5,025 older adults who completed interviews in 2006 and 2010,” Wilkinson said. “I know how exactly financially stressed they were in 2006, before the recession began in 2007, and then I know how they felt in 2010 which is right after the recession ended.”

Wilkinson said this made for an interesting study design that allowed her to look at changes in financial strain over time and what she found was unexpected.

“It’s surprising how many older adults experienced decreases in financial strain from 2006 to 2010,” she said. “Almost 40 percent of respondents indicated a decrease in financial strain.”

Wilkinson said she believes this reason for this is people went through it together, alleviating the stress.

“Financial strain is a perceptual measure,” she said. “It’s asking people to measure their own life’s circumstances and one of my theories is because it’s a perceptual measure, it takes into account people’s own subjective evaluation. I think because the great recession received so much attention, people were acutely aware of what was going on and how people around them were faring. I think that alleviated some of the stress they were feeling.”

Dr. Tetyana Shippee, associate professor at the University School of Minnesota School of Public Health, is a colleague of Wilkinson’s who also researched financial strains brought on by the Great Recession.

Shippee said there is enough evidence that shows the recession affected everybody in some way, young and old.

“Financial strains have long-term effects,” Shippee said. “It’s important to think of the needs of the vulnerable. Older adults are vulnerable.”

Wilkinson said while many older adults experienced decreases in financial strain during these four years, she expected it would be different when looking at younger adults.

“I suspect that we wouldn’t see a decrease in as many people if we looked at different age groups,” she said. “I think that older adults’ life circumstances give them a little more comfort than working adults and young adults just coming out of college.”

While there was a larger decrease in financial strain in Wilkinson’s study, there was a smaller fraction of older adults who did experience an increase in financial strain, and with it, higher symptoms of depression and anxiety.

“What I found is that initial financial strain in 2006 was associated with higher depressive symptoms, higher anxiety, and higher use of psychotropic drugs,” Wilkinson said. “People who were more financially stressed before the recession were higher in all these indicators in 2010.”

Wilkinson said she also found that people who experienced an increase of financial strain over time had the added contribution of depressive symptoms and anxiety.

“Six percent of respondents weren’t using psychotropic drugs in 2006 but were in 2010,” she said. “It’s surprising how many older adults experienced decreases in financial strain but it still doesn’t take away from the fact that increases in financial strain still had negative health effects.”