Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Recession: More Alcohol, Less Sex

By: Shannon Proudfoot, Canwest News Service

Recession: More alcohol, less sex

And while you're at it, turn up those tear-stained ballads
Less sex, more depression, and heartfelt ballads topping the charts are likely to be among the side-effects of the slumping economy, researchers say.

From our health to our grocery habits and pop culture penchants, the recessionary ripples can spread far beyond our bank accounts. "If you hear that GM may be in trouble, the big banks are in trouble, it's a bit of a group panic situation," says Remi Quirion, scientific director for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The emotional toll depends on how long a downturn lasts but can be a major burden for people already at risk for depression or anxiety, he says, and research suggests suicide rates rise, though he stresses that's a rare extreme reaction. Others may try to soothe their nerves with alcohol, Quirion says, while marital problems may spike because couples are stressed about money or falling prey to cabin fever when a tightened budget keeps them at home and on each other's nerves.

"Weakening your immune system when you have stress or anxiety or depression due to job insecurity can have an effect on multiple diseases, from the chances of having the flu to the speed of progression of cancer to cardiovascular disease," says Dr. Carles Muntaner, a professor of nursing at the University of Toronto. Sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer recently predicted in a Forbes magazine column that "this economic tsunami is going to have a negative effect not only in the boardroom but in the bedroom too." The economic crisis is even trickling down to the extramarital companions of wealthy individuals. Twelve per cent have given up their opposite-sex lovers "for financial reasons" in the past six months, according to a survey of 191 people worth at least $20 million, but that breaks down to 10.4 per cent of wealthy men and just 1.6 per cent of women.

Based on previous buying habits, Nielsen research firm has deemed carbonated beverages, eggs, cups and plates and tobacco are most likely to be trimmed from household budgets, while dry pasta, candy, beer and pasta sauces are considered "recession-proof." Hormel Foods says it has cranked up production of low-cost canned goods like Spam, canned stew and chili in anticipation of doing brisk business while families try to trim their grocery bills. Pop culture tastes also ebb and flow with the economy in intriguing ways. In studying more than 60 years of Hollywood starlets, Terry F. Pettijohn II, a psychology professor at Coastal Carolina University, found that actresses with mature features such as smaller eyes, thinner faces and stronger chins, were most popular during bad spells, while baby-faced stars fare best in buoyant times.

Rita Hayworth had a recession-friendly face, he says, while Bette Davis's features lent themselves to boom times.
He found a similar pattern among Playboy Playmates of the Year, and also found they tend to be slightly taller, heavier and older in bad times than in good. "We're looking for individuals that have these traits of strength and maturity and we're looking for individuals who would be able to help us out through the difficult times," Pettijohn says. His study of Billboard hits between 1955 and 2003, meanwhile, reveals that in shaky times, slower, more meaningful and romantic songs like Bridge Over Troubled Water and That's What Friends Are For are favoured, while party-friendly dance tunes like 1958's At the Hop or 50 Cent's more recent In Da Club, released in late 2002, top the charts when the economy is hot. Other research suggests people gravitate toward serious-issue TV shows during a recession, he says, but there are always anomalies. "There's going to be times even within a turbulent economy that we're going to want to escape or want to celebrate something good that happens briefly," he says.

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