Job loss raises risk of dying prematurely 63 percent

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Job loss
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Unemployment raises death risk in absence of other health problems

A new study shows job loss boosts the chances of dying 63 percent compared to employed persons. A surprising finding was despite a better health care system, unemployment was still linked to a greater risk of mortality from any cause, especially for men.

McGill University researchers, in collaboration with Stony Brook University scientists, say the finding points to the need for public health initiatives to aggressively screen the unemployed for cardiovascular and other diseases.

The researchers note the relationship between dying and losing one’s job is causal, but the new findings show pre-existing illness and lifestyle factors had little to do with the relationship between mortality and job loss.

According to McGill Sociology Professor Eran Shor, "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."

Men more at risk for premature death from job loss than women

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When the researchers compared men to women, the chances of dying prematurely linked to unemployment was 73 and 37 percent respectively in an analysis of mortality risk of more than 20 million persons taken from 42 studies.

The authors write, “Unemployment rates in the United States remain near a 25-year high and global unemployment is rising. Previous studies have shown that unemployed persons have an increased risk of death, but the magnitude of the risk and moderating factors have not been explored.”

Shor says job loss affects men’s health more than women. Men are more likely to worry about their family and engage in risky health behaviors like smoking, drinking, ignoring health care and poor nutrition that can all add up for premature death. They also found the risk is higher for those under age 50 and decreased for those approaching retirement age.

The study is the first to show a causal relationship between unemployment and dying early. In the multi-country study, the researchers found the risk of premature mortality from job loss was the same in all of the countries studied, showing no relationship to the type of health care system in place.

Social Science and Medicine: doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.01.005
“Losing life and livelihood: A systematic review and meta-analysis of unemployment and all-cause mortality”
David J. Roelfs, Eran Shor, Karina W. Davidson and Joseph E. Schwartz

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