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Unemployment Can Be Hazardous to Your Health


A recent study in The Journal of Health and Social Behavior showed that joblessness, along with smoking, was one of the factors associated with higher death rates among white women in the U.S. who didn’t graduate from high school.

“The study found that the odds of dying for the least educated women were 37 percent greater than for their more educated peers in any given year in the period of 1997 to 2001,” writes Sabrina Tavernise in The New York Times. “The odds had risen to 66 percent by the period of 2002 to 2006.”

The researchers focused on uneducated white women in the U.S. because the growth in mortality rates in that group have been particularly strong in the past few decades, and the reasons for that had not been revealed by previous studies. The study controlled for age, and saw no correlation between higher death rates and factors like alcohol consumption, marital status, or poverty. The study also found no sign that women were out of work because they were sick.

One possibility is that joblessness and health are tied together by lack of opportunity, arising simultaneously from the same experiences, rather than being affected or caused by each other.
Sarah Damaske, an assistant professor of labor studies and employment relations and sociology at Pennsylvania State University, told The Times that women who weren’t working were more likely to come from economic and social backgrounds that fostered poorer health outcomes.

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Tracie Egan Morrissey at Jezebel points out another distinct possibility, however, quoting the study’s lead author, Jennifer Karas Montez as saying that “there was some evidence that having a job offered intangible benefits that could improve health, including a sense of purpose and control in life, as well as providing networks that help to reduce social isolation” — a fact that will surprise no one who has ever been jobless.

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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