12:38pm Tuesday 12 December 2017

Poor credit rating linked to poor cardiovascular health

A credit score doesn’t only boil down a person’s entire financial history to a single number and somehow predict their credit-worthiness, it might also be saying something about a person’s health status, too, according to latest research out of the University of Otago.

This finding emerges from a new analysis from the world-renowned Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, which continues to closely track the physical and mental health of around 1,000 people born in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1972-73.

The latest paper from the study, appearing this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has found a strong relationship between low credit scores and poor cardiovascular health.

This doesn’t mean that poor financial management hurts your health, postdoctoral researcher and paper co-author Salomon Israel of Duke University is quick to point out. It’s that the sort of personal attributes that can lead to a poor credit score can also contribute to poor health.

This and other studies from the University of Otago’s Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study have found that self-control, planning ahead and perseverance are attributes that predict both better financial status and better health.

Backtracking into the data on these study participants, the researchers found that about 20% of the relationship between credit scores and heart health was accounted for by the attitudes, behaviours and competencies displayed by the study members when they were younger than age 10. “We’re showing that these things take root early in life,” Israel says.

University of Otago economist Dr Simon Chapple says economists have been increasingly realising that adult economic outcomes depend as much—or more—on personality factors like self-control as they do on intellect.

“This study is important as it shows that those two childhood factors work together to influence the ability of people in the prime adult years to access credit and hence actively engage in capital formation. The fact that better cardiovascular health also is associated with better credit access emphasises close links between human capital, health capital and other forms of capital formation,” Dr Chapple says.

Using a standard measure called the Framingham cardiovascular risk score, the Dunedin Study researchers estimated the ‘heart age’ of their participants, based on blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar and smoking habits. At age 38, the participants’ Framingham heart ages ranged from 22 to 85 years. Participants with higher credit scores had younger heart ages. The components of the Study’s human capital measure—educational attainment, cognitive ability and self-control—each predicted higher credit scores and younger heart age.

The idea of checking credit scores against the detailed personal data in the Dunedin study came from a conversation Professor Moffitt had with her seatmate on a plane about a decade ago. When she told her travelling companion from the life insurance industry that she studied self-control and life outcomes, he said, ‘We do that too, but we use credit scores’.

“The thing that’s so compelling about credit scores is that they’re both predictive and retrospective,” says co-author Professor Avshalom Caspi.

“They offer a window on the future, but also a window on the past.”

In recent years, credit scores have been used for pre-employment screening and many other functions beyond their original intent, Israel said. This study seems to bear out their usefulness as a proxy for a person’s reliability and steadfastness, and in turn how healthy they may be. “Our findings suggest that life insurance companies that acquire an applicant’s credit score are also indirectly acquiring information about that applicant’s educational attainment, intelligence and personality, right back to childhood,” the authors wrote.

Dunedin Study Director Professor Richie Poulton, FRSNZ, says, “We have confirmed that credit ratings can tell you a lot more about a person’s life chances than typically recognised.

“New Zealand, unlike a number of other countries, has pretty strict rules around accessing credit information to protect privacy. Clearly each country will make its own decisions about how data of this type should best be used. We have simply identified a wider scope for use than many would assume,” Professor Poulton says.

This research was supported by the Health Research Council of New Zealand, US National Institute on Aging (AG032282, T32-AG000029), the UK Medical Research Council ((MR/K00381X) the Jacobs Foundation and the Yad Hanadiv Rothschild Foundation.

Publication details: “Credit Scores, Cardiovascular Disease Risk, and Human Capital,” Salomon Israel, Avshalom Caspi, Daniel Belsky, HonaLee Harrington, Sean Hogan, Renate Houts, Sandhya Ramrakha, Seth Sanders, Richie Poulton, Terrie Moffitt. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nov. 17, 2014. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1409794111

For more information, contact:

Professor Richie Poulton, Director
Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health & Development Research Unit
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 8508


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