In Sickness and in Health: Job Displacement and Health Spillovers in Couples

Using administrative labor market data matched to mortality and patient records, we document that negative labor market shocks produce sizeable health spillovers in couples. For every 10,000 displaced men, there are 110 additional deaths. Of those, 60% accrue to the displaced worker but 40 % are due to excess spousal mortality. We further show for the first time a stunning gender asymmetry: while male job displacement generates persistent health effects, no such dire consequences are observed after a woman’s job loss. We explore several explanations for these patterns: risk sharing through spousal labor supply; earnings losses and public insurance; widowhood; and gender roles in the family.