Published: June 4, 2018

Download: Life Course Centre Working Paper: 2015-06


Francisco Perales and Stefanie Plage.

An updated version of this paper has been published in Social Science Research. DOI: 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2016.08.006

Non-Technical Summary:

Medical research has demonstrated that healthy sleep has benefits for people’s health and wellbeing. However, little is known about the reasons why some people sleep better or more than others. In this paper we pay attention to the ways in which suffering from material deprivation, having financial difficulties and having experienced a worsening in one’s personal economic circumstances affect sleep duration. We also consider the role of economic conditions in the local area in which people live, including the degree of unemployment and any changes in the degree of unemployment in the previous year.

We argue that individuals who are exposed to these factors can experience sleep loss and unhealthy sleeping habits through financial worry, uncertainty and stress. We also posit that economic contraction should have a stronger effect on the sleep of economically vulnerable individuals. This is because the degree of financial anxiety resulting from economic contraction may differ between people with high resources (who have access to ‘safety nets’ that can help them counteract personal economic losses) and disadvantaged people (for whom even minor changes to current financial circumstances may be sufficient to push them below subsistence level). We test these premises using data from a large, nationally representative, Australian household survey.

Our results are in-line with our expectations and indicate that people who experience financial hardship or live in deprived areas sleep fewer hours than comparable people who do not experience financial hardships and live in affluent areas. Furthermore, the effect of local economic conditions on sleep quantity is much stronger amongst economically vulnerable individuals: disadvantaged people seem to lose sleep due to harsh economic conditions in their local area, whereas advantaged people remain unaffected.

These findings have important implications. Since poor sleep is associated with health issues and low productivity at work, disproportionate reductions in sleep quantity through financial anxiety amongst individuals who are already disadvantaged may lead to the reproduction of inequality. We conclude that it is important for policymakers to devise interventions to manage the financial stress experienced by individuals in disadvantaged areas or areas experiencing economic recession as a means to enhance population health. Policies aimed at improving local economic conditions per se will not only result in higher employment rates or reduced income-support reliance, but also have indirect effects on individuals’ quality of life through increasing sleep quantity. Since disadvantaged people’s sleep is more affected by economic contraction, failure to do so may result in the exacerbation of existing health inequalities.


May 7, 2015