The researchers, who analyzed 42 studies with data on 20 million people regarding the relationship between unemployment and the risk of death, also found that the increased risk was greater for men (78 percent) than for women (37 percent). The overall study results reveal that the relationship between unemployment and mortality risk has remained constant for the past 50 years.
“Our study results clearly indicate that unemployment is not just bad for your pocketbook; it’s also bad for your health,” said Joseph E. Schwartz, Ph.D., the study’s lead author. Schwartz is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Stony Brook University School of Medicine and a visiting professor for the Department of Medicine and Psychiatry at Columbia University.
“The results suggest a causal relationship between unemployment and higher risk of death, as well as the need to identify strategies to minimize the adverse health effects of unemployment,” he said.
Schwartz pointed out that the current economic crisis and unemployment rates intensify the need to research the relationships between unemployment, health risks and premature death. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the national unemployment rate reached 9.6 percent in August 2010, near its highest level in 25 years. The rate remains high – it was 8.8 percent in March 2011.
The study, “Losing Life and Livelihood: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Unemployment and All-Cause Mortality,” included an analysis of working-age men and women mainly in Western countries over a 40-year period. Employment and unemployment were documented in the studies for people in all phases of their careers. Individuals were followed for different lengths of time in the various studies.
The researchers also found that for those who were younger (under age 50) and who experienced an episode of unemployment, the risk of death was greater (approximately 75 percent) than for those who were 50 or older (25 percent) experiencing the same.
“Those studies that followed people for more than 10 years showed a weaker relationship between unemployment and risk of death,” added David J. Roelfs, first author and a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at Stony Brook University. “This finding strongly suggests that the increase in risk is greater during an episode of unemployment and the initial 10 years thereafter.”
Schwartz and colleagues emphasized that future research should focus on possible mediating, moderating and confounding factors, as well as whether the risk of death could be modified in individuals, either at the health care system level or individual level. Some methods they suggest could include public health initiatives that target unemployed people for more aggressive cardiovascular screening or targeted interventions to help unemployed individuals reduce risk-taking behaviors.
This study was reported in the journal Social Science & Medicine.