Have we reached the point where more spending on health care and other forms of social protection is not producing better health as measured by reductions in population mortality? Drawing on two decades of research and mortality statistics (1995–2015) for 17 OECD countries, our analysis confirms and builds on the observed relationship between the returns and investments in health and social welfare spending. First, the results suggest that there is a differential effect of socioeconomic, lifestyle and demography variables on total and cause-specific mortality rates. Second, the basic premise of an association between health care expenditure and mortality rates is reinforced in models that take into account public-only health expenditure and its impact on older age groups. Third, a strong protective effect of government-sponsored welfare expenditure on infant mortality was observed. This effect is weaker on other causes of death and suggests that older individuals, in this sample of developed countries, may have reached a stage of the epidemiological transition in which health improvement is indifferent to government assistance and depends largely on behavioural change.
Can socioeconomic fluctuations explain variations in European Union suicide mortality? To answer this question, we investigate the effect of socioeconomic and demographic factors on (agespecific) male and female suicide rates using a fixed-effects technique and panel data for 15 EU countries, over a time period that leads up to, coincides with, and follows the recession of 2008. The findings show that suicide rates for young and working-age populations are more sensitive to general economic conditions than suicide rates for other age groups, and that male suicide behavior is more responsive than female behavior. In this setting, suicide rates are likely to be higher in countries with lower income, higher unemployment, higher divorce rates, and, most importantly, weaker systems of social protection. Our results, however, raise serious doubts about government involvement in crisis-related mental illness prevention and mental health promotion.