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Looking down a spiral staircase

Understanding unemployment and poor wellbeing

New research from the Evolve Workplace Wellbeing research team (including researchers from the University of East Anglia, Swansea University, University of Liverpool and University of Sheffield) sheds light on links between unemployment and poor wellbeing, demonstrating why creating good quality, sustainable jobs is crucial to people’s wellbeing.

The team investigated the impact of unemployment on wellbeing by looking at 29 studies published between 1990 and 2020. They undertook a meta-analysis which is a systematic process that involves summarising the results of many studies and conducting further tests to see whether particular characteristics or circumstances are influential. The meta-analysis considered evidence from longitudinal studies.

Carrying out a meta-analysis on longitudinal studies (studies that follow people over time to see what happens for them in the long run) was particularly important. This is a more robust way of thinking about wellbeing effects because the data is not just a snapshot in time, it helps explore how wellbeing changes and develops.  In this case the studies looked at wellbeing before and after becoming unemployed which throws light on both how unemployment impacts wellbeing but also the role that poor wellbeing plays in escaping unemployment.

It may not be surprising to hear that there is strong evidence that unemployment is damaging to wellbeing.  Unemployed people suffer from poorer wellbeing than those who are working and, the longer the spell of unemployment, the larger the impact. Unemployment is damaging to life satisfaction and to mental health.

However, this new research not only updates the evidence base to confirm the above. It also looks at particular characteristics and circumstances in more detail.

One of the most concerning findings explained how people with an experience of unemployment can become trapped in a downwards spiral. They become unemployed, with negative effects on wellbeing, which then effects their future state of employment. The poor wellbeing experienced after the first loss can mean people experience difficulties in getting back to work.

The negative role of unemployment on wellbeing was particularly significant in countries with stronger societal expectations about work.  Gender played a role in experiences of unemployment too, with men in countries with less gender equality experiencing unemployment more severely than in countries where women’s workplace role was more equal.

The results reinforce existing evidence on the negative impact of unemployment upon wellbeing and show that this holds for the young/old, better/less well educated in richer/poorer developed economies. In other words, unemployment is a bad experience for everyone and long-term unemployment is even worse.  These findings have important practical implications, they suggest that creating good quality, sustainable jobs are crucial to people’s wellbeing.

The open access paper can be read in full here: Full article

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