Men Who Lose Their Jobs at Greater Risk of Dying Prematurely

April 5, 2011

Unemployment increases the risk of premature mortality by 63%.

Unemployment increases the risk of premature mortality by 63%. One surprising finding was 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 all the countries covered by the study.

The truly groundbreaking aspect of the research is that it suggests that there is a causal relationship between unemployment and a higher risk of death according to research conducted by Eran Shor, PhD, a professor of sociology at McGill University in Montreal, working in collaboration with researchers from Stony Brook University.

Shor reached these conclusions by surveying existing research covering 20 million people in 15 (mainly western) countries over the last 40 years. The study was published in a recent issue of Social Science and Medicine.

“Until now, one of the big questions in the literature has been about whether preexisting 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,” Shor said in a statement.

“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.”

The research also showed that unemployment increases men’s mortality risk more than it does women’s mortality risk (78% vs. 37% respectively). The risk of death is particularly high for those who are under the age of 50.

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

The research suggests that public-health initiatives could target unemployed people for more aggressive cardiovascular screening and interventions aimed at reducing risk-taking behaviors.