We use British panel data to explore the exogenous impact of income on a number of individual health outcomes: general health status, mental health, physical health problems, and health behaviours (drinking and smoking). Lottery winnings allow us to make causal statements regarding the effect of income on health, as the amount won is largely exogenous. These positive income shocks have no significant effect on general health, but a large positive effect on mental health. This result seems paradoxical on two levels. First, there is a well-known status gradient in health in cross-section data, and, second, general health should partly reflect mental health, so that we may expect both variables to move in the same direction. We propose a solution to the first apparent paradox by underlining the endogeneity of income. For the second, we show that exogenous income is associated with greater risky health behaviours: lottery winners smoke more and engage in more social drinking. General health will pick up both mental health and the effect of these behaviours, and so may not improve following a positive income shock. This paper presents the first microeconomic analogue of previous work which has highlighted the negative health consequences of good macroeconomic conditions.
In other words, lottery wins make you happy but you’re just as likely to keel over from a heart attack as you ever were, because you party hard for the rest of your life. I note with interest that the lucky winners celebrated with a bacon sandwich.
Here’s an earlier “Dear Economist” in which I pointed out that lottery wins don’t help you avoid bankruptcy, either.