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Stress from Long-term Unemployment May Undermine Health

Stress from Long-term Unemployment May Undermine Health

Researchers have found the direct biological stress associated with unemployment may explain the increased mortality and morbidity among job-seekers.

University of College London investigators correlated inflammatory markers found in blood, which are influenced by stress, to heart disease.

The markers are clinically important because mildly raised levels predict atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries due to fatty deposits) and heart disease.

Using data on 23,025 participants from the Health Survey for England and Scottish Health Survey, the researchers found that unemployed men and women had higher levels of inflammatory markers than employed counterparts.

This association was apparent after taking into account a wide range of demographic and lifestyle factors: occupational social class from last job, housing tenure, smoking, alcohol consumption, body mass index, long-term health conditions, and depressive/anxiety symptoms.

Older job-seekers (aged 48-64) were more affected than younger jobseekers.

Effects were stronger in Scotland, where unemployment was higher and unemployment spells on average longer during the years of the study.

The authors suspect this may point to “accumulation effects,” with inflammatory markers more affected if a person has been unemployed for a long time. This would also explain the stronger effects for older job-seekers, likely to have accumulated more unemployment than younger counterparts.

Additionally, unemployment may be more stressful for older job-seekers facing age discrimination or with outdated skills.

Experts have known that unemployed people are at greater risk of mortality and physical ill-health compared to employed counterparts. However, the exact mechanism on how this occurs and how unemployment damages health, has been unknown.

Unemployment is a stressful experience that often involved a loss of status and social support as well as income. As such, it could damage health through direct effects of stress in a similar way to other negative life events such as bereavement, or by causing changes in lifestyle factors like smoking and exercise.

Alternatively, job-seekers might be less healthy because poor health increases chance of unemployment.

This is why inflammatory markers were used in this study; because mild increases in inflammatory markers reflect early stages of disease before people begin to feel ill, they should not on their own influence chances of job loss or re-employment.

“These results indicate that stress itself may play a pathological role during unemployment which is independent of lifestyle factors, but that certain groups may be more affected than others,” said researchers.

“This research highlights the need to protect both the long-term unemployed and older job-seekers in the labor force.”

Source: University College London/EurekAlert

Stress from Long-term Unemployment May Undermine Health

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Stress from Long-term Unemployment May Undermine Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 9 Mar 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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