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ImageIf you have a job, spare a thought for those who are still struggling to re-enter the job market.
Because not only does unemployment create its own hazards, not least from constantly dodging the bank manager, utility companies and the odd bailiff; but, if some of the research is to be believed, not being in a job could also prove lethal.

A growing body of research suggests that layoffs can have profound health consequences. This can prove worse as you get older, as one 2006 study by a group of epidemiologists at Yale found. The study – 'The impact of late career job loss on myocardial infarction and stroke' concluded that layoffs more than doubled the risk of a heart attack or stroke among older workers.

Unemployment and Mature Workers

The research set out to asses the 10 year risk of heart attacks and strokes associated with involuntary job loss among workers over 50 years of age, analysing data from the nationally representative US Health and Retirement Survey (HRS) of over 4,000 people.

Unsurprisingly, the findings showed that "involuntary job loss is a major life event associated with social, economic, behavioural, and health outcomes, for which older workers are at elevated risk." In fact, these displaced workers had a more than twofold increase in the risk of subsequent heart attacks and strokes relative to other working people.

If some of the research is to be believed, not being in a job could also prove lethal.


Results, say the study authors, that suggest that the true costs of late career unemployment exceed financial loss, and include substantial health consequences. Doctors who treat individuals who lose jobs as they near retirement, they warn, should "consider the loss of employment a potential risk factor for adverse vascular health changes", while policy makers should also be aware of the risks of job loss, and design programmes to ease "the multiple burdens of joblessness."

Stress – the Health Factor

Stress can come from any situation or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or anxious. What is stressful to one person is not necessarily stressful to another. Stress is a normal part of life and, in small quantities, can be good for us, motivating us to be more productive. Too much of it, however, is harmful and can lead to poor health as well as specific physical or psychological illnesses like infection, heart disease, or depression. Persistent stress is also a key driver for unhealthy behaviour such as overeating and drug and alcohol abuse.

'Job Loss and Health in the U.S. Labor Market', a paper, published in 2009 by Kate W. Strully, a sociology professor at the State University of New York at Albany, found that a person who lost a job had an 83% greater chance of developing a stress-related health problem, like diabetes, arthritis or psychiatric issues. Whether they were blue collar or white collar workers, Strully concluded that "respondents who lost jobs faced an increased risk of developing new health conditions."

Losing a job is also linked to not only increased depression and the development of heart disease, but also to an increase in smoking. A research study from Yale University 'The effect of involuntary job loss on smoking intensity and relapse' showed that older workers have over two times greater odds of relapse subsequent to involuntary job loss than those who did not.

The study also found that those who were smokers prior to losing their jobs and were not able to find new jobs, ended up, on average, smoking more cigarettes than ever before. The study's conclusions highlighted job loss as a major health risk factor for older smokers, pointing out that the stress of job loss, along with other significant changes associated with leaving one's job, which would tend to increase cigarette consumption, outweighed the financial hardship which would tend to reduce the level of smoking.

Jobs for Life

Chronic illness and threatened strokes isn't the whole story, unfortunately. In perhaps the most worrying finding, a study published last year concluded that involuntary unemployment can also affect life expectancy.

The true costs of late career unemployment exceed financial deprivation, and include substantial health consequences.


A study by Till von Wachter, a Columbia University economist, and Daniel G. Sullivan, the Director of Research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, examined death records and earnings data in Pennsylvania during the recession of the early 1980s. They concluded that death rates among high-seniority male workers jumped by 50% to 100%, depending on a worker's age, in the year following a job loss. Even after 20 years, deaths were 10 to 15% higher than normal. That meant a worker who lost his job at age 40 had his life expectancy cut by a year to a year and half.

While scientists are still studying the connection between job loss and bad health, the focus of much of their research is on the direct and indirect effects of stress. Acute stress can create biochemical changes that can trigger events such as heart attacks. Job loss and chronic stress can also lead to changes in lifestyle that damage people's health – a finding which gives a whole new meaning to the term 'jobs for life'.

The Power of Negative Thinking

"A man is but the product of his thoughts; what he thinks, he becomes," said Mahatma Gandhi, a view supported by a study in 2009 by Sarah A. Burgard, a Professor of Sociology and Epidemiology at the University of Michigan.

In her research, 'Perceived job insecurity and worker health in the United States' Burgard found that "persistent perceived job insecurity is a significant and substantively important predictor of poorer health" and might even be more damaging than actual job loss.

People who work with those who are unemployed and companies who plan job reduction exercises should bear in mind the impact that a job loss can have on people's health.

Perhaps the biggest difference that any of us can make to someone who has lost their job is to help them to see a positive outcome arising from a devastating process. To see a redundancy as a chance to take control of their choices and to identify a challenging and exciting next step in their careers and lives; in other words, to harness the power of positive thinking. You could be helping to save their life.

Losing a job is an opportune time to remember, as Winston Churchill once said, that "a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."



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