Scientists say while long-term economic growth is associated with better health, cycles of "boom and bust" in developed nations resulted in increased death rates among those aged 40 and over.
Research published today shows there is not enough evidence to suggest work-related stress and unhealthy lifestyles - sometimes seen as symptoms of a good economy - explain the increased death rate.
The Leyden Academy on Vitality and Ageing in the Netherlands found that for every one percentage point increase in gross domestic product (GDP - the market value of goods and services produced within a country over a given period of time), death rates rose by 0.36% among 70-74-year-olds, and by 0.38% among 40-44-year-olds.
Herbert Rolden, economic researcher, said the results were "highly unexpected". He said: "We were very surprised to see that there is also a movement between economic growth and mortality in the older population.
"Now that we found that retirees also have an increased mortality risk in good economic times, we are still in the dark on what really explains the association."
Researchers used historical data from 1950 to 2008 across 19 developed countries, including the UK and Ireland.