Job loss raises risk of early death

MCGILL (CAN) / STONY BROOK (US) — Facing unemployment early in a career increases the chances of dying prematurely by as much as 63 percent. While the risk is true for both sexes, men most particularly are affected.

An extensive study of 20 million people over the last 40 years finds that, in spite of expectations that a better health-care system might contribute to lower mortality rates, the correlation between unemployment and a higher risk of death was the same in 15 (mostly western) countries.

“Until now, one of the big questions in the literature has been about whether pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes or heart problems, or behaviors such as smoking, drinking, or drug use, lead to both unemployment and a greater risk of death,” says Eran Shor, professor of sociology at McGill University.

“What’s interesting about our work is that we found that preexisting health conditions had no effect, suggesting that the unemployment-mortality relationship is quite likely a causal one. This probably has to do with unemployment causing stress and negatively affecting one’s socioeconomic status, which in turn leads to poorer health and higher mortality rates.”

Details of the study are reported in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

Unemployment increases men’s mortality risk more than it does women’s mortality risk (78 percent versus 37 percent respectively). The risk of death is particularly high for those who are younger than the age of 50.

“We suspect that even today, not having a job is more stressful for men than for women,” Shor says.

“When a man loses his job, it still often means that the family will become poorer and suffer in various ways, which in turn can have a huge impact on a man’s health by leading to both increased smoking, drinking or eating and by reducing the availability of healthy nutrition and health care services.”

Public-health initiatives could target unemployed people for more aggressive cardiovascular screening and interventions aimed at reducing risk-taking behaviors.

Researchers from Stony Brook University contributed to the study that was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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