Post-Recession Household Spending Examined

Household spending on dental care declined during the Dec. 2007-June 2009 recession as consumers generally tightened purses and wallets. Now that the economy is recovering, household spending is up for many consumer items, sometimes dramatically, but not for dental care, according to a Health Policy Perspectives column in the March Journal of the American Dental Association.

Among 11 consumer items selected for analysis, post-recession household spending is contracting for just three, legal services, coffee and tea and dental care, the JADA column said. Post-recession spending growth was reported for health care in general, educational services, cable and satellite TV, soft drinks, alcoholic beverages, hotels and motels, cellular phone services and package tours.

“Household spending on dental care, on the other hand, continues to decrease,” said the economist author Marko Vujicic. “Other data show that despite being five years removed from the end of the Great Recession, the dental economy is not recovering and dental spending continues to be flat. The basic conclusion from the [data] figure is that household spending on many items is recovering. But not lawyers, lattes and dentists.”

Why are households spending more on cell phones and vacations and spending less on dental care as the economy recovers? The author suggests “a multitude of plausible reasons” that could include oral health improvements, a perceived lack of need for dental care, different approaches with respect to routine preventive care strategies and changing attitudes about “the subjective value of dental care.”

More in-depth research is needed to understand the value proposition associated with a dental visit, the JADA column concluded. The American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute is exploring collaborations with various stakeholders to generate this evidence.

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