Losing life and livelihood review, Social Science & Medicine
A study led by a Montreal researcher has found unemployment can raise the risk of premature death. Unemployment increases the risk of premature death to such an extent that more needs to be done to improve the health of the unemployed, researchers say.McGill University sociology Prof. Eran Shor and colleagues surveyed studies done in the past 40 years in 15, mainly Western, countries. The studies covered about 20 million people.
The researchers said their findings are important, given that many national unemployment rates exceed 10 per cent and are expected to stay high for some time. Canada's rate was 7.8 per cent in March.The study found unemployment increases the risk of premature death by 1.63 times, after factors such as age, sex, income, socioeconomic status and health status are taken into account. By comparison, smoking 25 cigarettes a day increases a man's mortality risk by 1.89 times, according to some research.
"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 behaviours such as smoking, drinking or drug use, lead to both unemployment and a greater risk of death," Shor said.But the study found pre-existing health conditions had no effect, which suggests a causal relationship between unemployment and mortality risk, he said.
"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."
Heart screening for jobless suggested
Public health efforts could target unemployed people for more aggressive cardiovascular screening, the researchers suggested."Until more is known about the mechanisms by which this association occurs, more proactive primary prevention screening and interventions among the unemployed are needed," the authors concluded.Stress-management programs aimed at getting unemployed people to give up behaviour that can lead to injury might also help, they said.One of the surprising findings of the study, the researchers said, was that publicly financed health and social benefits didn't seem to cushion the effects of unemployment. Risks of premature death were similar in the U.S, which has no universal health care, and in Scandinavian countries, which have comprehensive coverage.
The study appears in this week's issue of the journal Social Science & Medicine.
The research was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.