For the study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, researchers looked at DNA samples of 5,620 men and women born in Finland in 1966 and measured their telomeres—strands of protective DNA which lie at the ends of chromosomes and keep the genetic code from being degraded.
Telomeres shrink over a person’s lifetime, and their length is used as a marker for biological aging. Short telomeres are linked to a greater risk for age-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, mental decline, and heart disease.
“Shorter telomeres are linked to higher risk of various age-related diseases and earlier death. Stressful life experiences in childhood and adulthood have previously been linked to accelerated telomere shortening. We have now shown that long-term unemployment may cause premature aging too,” said geneticist Dr. Jessica Buxton from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London.
Telomeres were measured from blood samples collected in 1997, when the participants were all 31 years old.
The findings showed that men who had been without a job for more than two of the previous three years were more than twice as likely to have short telomeres compared to men who were continuously employed.
The researchers took into account other social, biological and behavioral factors that could have possibly swayed the results. This helped rule out the possibility that short telomeres were linked to medical conditions that kept the study participants from working.
Interestingly, these results were not duplicated in women, which may be because fewer women than men in the study were unemployed for long periods in their 30s. However, whether long-term unemployment is more harmful for men than women later in life should be addressed in future research.
“There has been lots of research linking long-term unemployment with ill health. This is the first study to show this type of effect at a cellular level.
“These findings raise concerns about the long-term effects of joblessness in early adulthood. Keeping people in work should be an essential part of general health promotion,” said Dr. Leena Ala-Mursula, from the University of Oulu.
Source: Imperial College London