Later-life mental and physical health are impacted by unemployment.
According to a recent study, a person’s experience with unemployment in their twenties, thirties, and forties has a significant impact on their health later in life. This might be partly due to the fact that they did not have access to health care when they were jobless.
In contrast to those who experienced very little unemployment throughout their careers, the researchers discovered that people who frequently experienced unemployment in their mid-to-late-20s and early-30s but had little experience of it after the age of 35 had worse physical and mental health by the age of 50.
Furthermore, individuals who had regular unemployment from their mid-20s to late-40s had significantly poorer physical and mental health by the age of 50. A total score that included factors for energy, pain, and emotional wellbeing was used to determine how healthy people were.
The research is one of the first to identify relationships between when and how often a person experiences unemployment and their midlife health in addition to correlations between unemployment and later life health.
The lack of access to health care when jobless, according to Sarah Damaske, an associate professor of sociology, labor and employment relations, and women’s studies at Penn State, may help explain some of the results.
“Almost 75 percent of workers in the U.S. receive health insurance through their employers, possibly making the lasting effects of unemployment larger here than in other countries,” Damaske said. “Policies aimed at improving access to full-time work and health insurance, as well as efforts to promote healthy behaviors, may be able to counter the negative effects of unemployment.”
The study was recently published in the Journal of Aging and Health.
According to Damaske, previous research has found a connection between experiencing unemployment and poorer health. But less was known about how different experiences with unemployment over time affected health at midlife. For this study, the researchers wanted to identify different trajectories, or patterns, of unemployment people experience and track how they affected their health later in life at age 50.
The researchers analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which included information on 6,434 participants who were interviewed every other year between the ages of 27 and 49 about the number of weeks they’d spent employed, unemployed, or out of work the previous year. The participants also filled out questionnaires about their physical and mental health at ages 40 and 50.
“Additionally, we also controlled for confounding variables at age 50 that might skew the results,” said Adrianne Frech, an associate professor at the University of Missouri who led the study, “such as household and financial resources, and health behaviors such as drinking and smoking, body mass index, and hours slept at night.”
After analyzing the data, the researchers identified three main groups or trajectories that the participants tended to follow.
The “consistently low” trajectory comprised 70 percent of the sample and included participants who experienced the least unemployment at every age. The “decreasing mid-career” group made up 18 percent of the sample and experienced most of their unemployment before the age of 35. “Persistently high” comprised the remaining 12 percent and included participants who were the most likely to be unemployed across all ages.
According to Damaske, some of the association between unemployment and worse health outcomes could be explained by the confounding variables at age 50, suggesting areas not directly tied to employment that could be targeted by interventions.
“Some of the ‘scarring’ effects of unemployment may operate through employment-based resources and health behavior characteristics,” Damasked said. “For example, lacking health insurance, smoking, and a lack of physical activity were all associated with poorer physical and mental health at age 50. Interventions could aim to reduce these problems and hopefully result in better health, regardless of employment status.”
The researchers said future studies could examine how the duration of unemployment affects health, since long-term unemployment may be more damaging to a person’s health.
Reference: “The Life Course of Unemployment and Midlife Health” by Adrianne Frech, Ph.D., Sarah Damaske, Ph.D. and Adrienne Ohler, Ph.D., 6 May 2022, Journal of Aging and Health.
Adrienne Ohler, University of Missouri, also participated in this work.
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the Population Research Institute at Penn State.