A sudden loss of wealth in middle or old age can be financially devastating—and fatal. According to a University of Michigan study, adults in their 50s and older who suffer a catastrophic loss of wealth have a 50-percent higher risk of dying than those who do not have such loss. The effect can last for two decades, and whether participants are very wealthy or have only modest savings makes no difference.

The study, appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at negative wealth shocks—the loss of 75 percent of a person’s wealth in a two-year period—and its impact on the risk of dying.

“The most surprising findings were that the higher risk of death among those experiencing a negative wealth shock was almost as high as the well-known higher risk of death for those who have no wealth in middle or older age, and also that this higher risk was apparent for a very long time—up to 20 years after the negative wealth shock,” said senior researcher Carlos Mendes de Leon, professor of epidemiology at the U-M School of Public Health.

“Our findings offer new evidence for an important social determinant of health that so far has not been recognized: sudden loss of wealth in late middle or older age. They further enrich our understanding of the critical role other social determinants such as low education, poverty, unemployment and housing instability play in population health and health inequities.”

Lead researcher Lindsay Pool, who conducted the study while an epidemiology doctoral student at U-M’s School of Public Health, is now a research assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

Read more at the University of Michigan