Positive Income Shocks and Accidental Deaths Among Cherokee Indians

A Natural Experiment

Published in: International Journal of Epidemiology, v. 40, no. 4, Aug. 2011, p. 1083-1090

by Tim A. Bruckner, Ryan Andrew Brown, Claire Margerison-Zilko

Read More

Access further information on this document at International Journal of Epidemiology

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

BACKGROUND: Several studies in low-income populations report the somewhat counterintuitive finding that positive income gains adversely affect adult health. The literature posits that receipt of a large portion of annual income increases, in the short term, risk-taking behaviour and/or the consumption of health-damaging goods. This work implies the hypothesis that persons with an unexpected gain in income will exhibit an elevated risk of accidental death—the fifth leading cause of death in the USA. We test this hypothesis directly by capitalizing on a natural experiment in which Cherokee Indians in rural North Carolina received discrete lump sum payments from a new casino. METHODS: We applied Poisson regression to the monthly count of accidental deaths among Cherokee Indians over 204 months spanning 1990–2006. We controlled for temporal patterns in accidental deaths (e.g. seasonality and trend) as well as changes in population size. RESULTS: As hypothesized, the risk of accidental death rises above expected levels during months of the large casino payments (relative risk = 2.62; 95% confidence interval = 1.54–4.47). Exploratory analyses of ethnographic interviews and behavioural surveys support that increased vehicular travel and consumption of health-damaging goods may account for the rise in accident proneness. CONCLUSIONS: Although long-term income gains may improve health in this population, our findings indicate that acute responses to large income gains, in the short term, increase risk-taking and accident proneness. We encourage further investigation of natural experiments to identify causal economic antecedents of population health.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit www.rand.org/about/research-integrity.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.