Unstable income affects mental health

Those whose incomes are unstable in their peak earning years, tend to face higher risk of brain damage in their middle age.

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Youngsters who face salary cuts of 25 per cent or more a year, are more susceptible to mental health issues in middle age. When incomes are volatile for people during their peak years—when they are young and capable enough to actually be able to earn— they suffer immense brain damage in their middle age.

The study by the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health reveals that those earning low salaries or unsteady incomes are unlikely to have appropriate access to good quality healthcare. This makes it difficult for them to manage health conditions, such as diabetes or control harmful habits, such as smoking and alcohol consumption.

The study covered about 3,287 people between the ages of 23 and 35. The yearly household income (pre-tax) of the participants was recorded every three to five years, for two decades (from 1990 to 2010). The frequency of income drops was studied along with the change in income over 20 years of each participant.

On the basis of the results, the participants were grouped into those who did not experience any fall in income; those who suffered a single income dip of at least 25 per cent and those who suffered income drops at least twice. The participants were asked to take memory and thinking tests to examine the efficiency with which they completed the tasks assigned to them.

It was discovered that those who suffered two or more income drops performed the worst, whereas those who faced no income dips performed the best. The level of poor performance was reported to be worse than that of a person who has normally aged by a year. Not surprisingly, those with more income drops were much slower and took more time to complete the tasks.

Brain scans also revealed that people with more income drops had smaller brain volume as compared to those with steady incomes. Reduced brain connectivity was also observed in people with one or more income drops.

Clearly, social and financial factors do have a significant impact on brain ageing.

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