O’Rand and Hamil-Luker article published in Demography

Angela M. O'Rand, Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Jenifer Hamil Luker, Assistant Professor of the Practice of Sociology

Landfall After the Perfect Storm: Cohort Differences in the Relationship Between Debt and Risk of Heart Attack


Analyses of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) between 1992 and 2014 compare the relationship between different levels and forms of debt and heart attack risk trajectories across four cohorts. Although all cohorts experienced growing household debt, including the increase of both secured and unsecured debt, they nevertheless encountered different economic opportunity structures and crises at sensitive times in their life courses, with implications for heart attack risk trajectories. Results from frailty hazards models reveal that unsecured debt is associated with increased risk of heart attack across all cohorts. Higher levels of housing debt, however, predict higher rates of heart attack among only the earlier cohorts. Heart attack risk trajectories for Baby Boomers with high levels of housing debt are lower than those of same-aged peers with no housing debt. Thus, the relationship between debt and heart attack varies by level and form of debt across cohorts but distinguishes Baby Boomer cohorts based on their diverse exposures to volatile housing market conditions over the sensitive household formation period of the life course.

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