A drop in income may be damaging for the brain scientists discover

A study has found that young adults seeing a fall in earnings can have problems later on

A drop in income may be damaging for the brain scientists discover
Steve Randall

Studies linking financial security and wellbeing are not new, but a recent study has revealed how losing money can actually harm our brains.

Members of the American Academy of Neurology have discovered that a drop in income of 25% for a young adult can lead to memory problems and reduced brain health in middle age.

“Income volatility is at a record level since the 1980s and there is growing evidence that it may have pervasive effects on health, yet policies intending to smooth unpredictable income changes are being weakened in the United States and many other countries,” said study author Leslie Grasset, PhD, of the Inserm Research Center in Bordeaux, France. “Our results provide evidence that higher income volatility and more income drops during peak earning years are linked to unhealthy brain aging in middle age.”

The study began with 23-35 year olds and tracked their annual pre-tax household income every three to five years for a total of twenty years from 1990-2010.

Of the 3,287 studied, 1,780 did not have an income drop; 1,108 had one drop of 25% or more from the previous reported income; and 399 had two or more such drops.

Reduced performance

Researchers then carried out thinking and memory tests and found that people with two or more income drops had worse performances in completing tasks than people with no income drops. On average, they scored worse by 3.74 points or 2.8%.

“For reference, this poor performance is greater than what is normally seen due to one year in aging, which is equivalent to scoring worse by only 0.71 points on average or 0.53%”, said Grasset.

Some of the participants also had MRI scans to determine brain volume at the start and end of the study.

Researchers found when compared to people with no income drops, people with two or more income drops had smaller total brain volume. People with one or more income drops also had reduced connectivity in the brain, meaning there were fewer connections between different areas of the brain.

“There may be several explanations as to why an unstable income may have an influence on brain health, including that people with a lower or unstable income may have reduced access to high quality health care which may result in worse management of diseases like diabetes, or management of unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and drinking,” said Grasset. “While our study does not prove that drops in income cause reduced brain health, it does reinforce the need for additional studies examining the role that social and financial factors play in brain aging. It is possible that enhancing the stability of income could play a beneficial role in brain health, and there are straightforward policy options to reduce income volatility, such as unemployment insurance and short-term wage insurance.”