Imagine you lived in Barcelona and lost your job, like thousands of Spaniards did each year of the most recent recession. And also, imagine you were pregnant. Would you sit around the house, anxiously sending out job applications and stress-snacking on churros? Or would you take long walks in the Mediterranean sun and stop at farmers’ markets along the way?
Spanish moms, it seems, often choose the latter.
Libertad González, an associate professor at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, recently examined the health of registered newborns in Spain from 1981 to 2010, and she cross-referenced the data with the unemployment rate in each of the country’s provinces at the time. With each 10 percent increase in unemployment, she found, the neonatal death rate dropped by 7 percent, and the percent of babies with low birth weights decreased by 3 percent.
The reason? During recessions, mothers consistently reported being in better health, and they exhibited healthier behaviors: “They smoke and drink less, exercise and sleep more, and weigh less,” Gonzalez wrote.
Her findings mesh with past research in the U.S. showing that health improves during periods of low economic growth. A 2004 study of American babies, for example, also found that those born in periods of high unemployment had fewer birth defects, were more likely to weigh a healthy amount, and were less likely to die.