A lifetime of carrying unsecured debt such as credit card and payday loan obligations can lead to physical pain that interferes with day-to-day activities, a recent study finds.
The steady stream of stress and anxiety tied to such debt results in poorer health later in life, according to University of Missouri researcher Adrianne Frech, a medical sociologist and associate professor in the MU School of Health Professions.
Frech and the study co-authors looked at data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to examine the financial health of nearly 8,000 baby boomers when they were ages 28 to 40. She then looked at their physical health at age 50.
Their findings were published in the social science journal SSM – Population Health.
In a press release, Frech says:
“Those with consistently high debt were 76% more likely to have pain that interfered with their daily life compared to those with no unsecured debt, and what surprised us the most was that even the people who did pay down their debt over time were still 50% more likely to have pain interference than those with no unsecured debt.”
As people stuck in low-wage jobs struggle, they take on more debt, which causes more stress that has negative health impacts. Those ailments hamper the ability to work, and the cycle continues, Frech says.
Frech says this cycle is “hard to reverse once it starts.” She also contends that most people fall deeply into debt due to “systematic inequalities” that lead to “desperate circumstances” requiring them to borrow just to make ends meet.
Addressing these inequalities is necessary if we hope to end the downward spiral brought on by growing levels of unsecured debt, she says.
“Ideally, we could prevent individuals from taking on unsecured debt in the first place, and that starts with increasing wages so people could meet their basic needs.”
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