Population Health

April 21, 2022

Pilot project seeks to understand health effects of cryptocurrency trading among young adults

Image of cryptocurrency coins placed over a trading chartCryptocurrency has become the new buzzword in financial spaces over the last decade, and especially in the last few years. Cryptocurrency is a form of decentralized virtual currency, popularized due to its lack of ties to government or central authorities in addition to its anonymous trading that occurs 24 hours a day. Blockchain technology utilized by cryptocurrencies has also contributed to its growing appeal as it provides an added layer of security by preventing forged transaction histories.

Cryptocurrency trading may increase wealth among communities marginalized by traditional banking systems. A recent survey found that nearly a third of U.S. adults under the age of 30 have invested in cryptocurrency, with higher rates of use among Black, Latinx and Asian adults.

“Cryptocurrency trading may mitigate inequities in intergenerational wealth and provide opportunities for wealth generation among communities of color because it does not rely on historical structures and financial systems that have caused these inequities,” explained Dr. Caislin Firth, Principal Investigator of the new Risk-taking behaviors and Cryptocurrency trading (REACT) project and a Research Scientist in the UW Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

The REACT project was recently awarded a Population Health Initiative Tier 1 pilot grant as the team seeks to better understand the links between cryptocurrency trading and health and well-being outcomes among young adults. Driven by the motivation to comprehend shifts in the ways young adults are connecting with their peers in different spaces, investigators on the REACT project team will explore the appeals of cryptocurrency trading across diverse populations while evaluating its potential ability to diminish inequities in the financial space.

The team plans to conduct a feasibility study with the end goal of securing additional funding to study population health impacts of cryptocurrency trading over time, among a cohort of young adults. Over the next eight months, the REACT team will use a combination of observational research in online communities and synthesizing literature to draw connections and examine how cryptocurrency trading among young adults affects their health, both positively and negatively.

The REACT study is comprised of an interdisciplinary team of researchers, bridging population health, political science, business, and economics, and graduate students. The project is led by Firth, Jessica Beyer of the UW Center for Studies in Demography & Ecology, Christopher Barnes of the Foster School of Business and Marieka Klawitter of the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance, with collective expertise in studying how online communities form, act and mobilize.

“I’m excited to see what happens and to listen and learn from our graduate student Research Assistants, who I imagine will provide perspectives we never considered when it comes to this kind of work among younger adults,” said Firth. “Receiving support from the Population Health Initiative supports building relationships with researchers in different departments, an opportunity that I probably wouldn’t have had without the REACT project.”