The Relationship Between Unemployment, Physical Health, and Mental Health

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  4
Wordcount:  935 Words
Date:  2022-02-21

The relationship between unemployment, physical health, and mental health has been a subject of an investigation by researchers in the past few decades. Apart from empirical studies, the relationship between unemployment and health has been explained using theoretical models. One of the most important models used to explain this association is Jahoda's Model of unemployment. According to this model, employment fosters wellbeing through five latent functions. First, employment enables an individual to have a definite time structure during the day, thus reducing idleness. Second, it allows an individual to expand social network beyond their families and neighborhoods. Third, through the performance of work in social groups, an individual leads a meaningful life. Additionally, through employment, a person achieves high social status and identity thus enhancing wellbeing. Lastly, a regular physical activity which characterizes job improves wellbeing. In unemployed individuals, deprivation of these five latent functions is associated with distress (Fryer 1986).

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The relationship between unemployment and health has also been explained using economic and psychological models. Two economic models have been used to examine this association: skills atrophy model and social-psychological theory of hysteresis. According to skills atrophy model, periods of unemployment makes an individual's work skills to be obsolete and redundant hence decreasing employability. Because of this, a person is less likely to be employed even when an opportunity arises. Consequently, an unemployed person ends up losing motivation, self-discipline, and self-confidence that is required to secure a job (Quiggin 1995). On the other hand, the social-psychological theory of hysteresis explains that unemployment is detrimental to the health of the affected individual. Specifically, unemployment decreases self-esteem, leads to increased fear and depression. Additionally, it leads to a sense of 'learned helplessness.' Because of these effects, the unemployed are less motivated to search for jobs. Moreover, perceived helplessness reduces the cognitive ability of an individual. This decreases an individual's performance in interviews compared to those who did not experience helplessness. Furthermore, the social-psychological theory of hysteresis explains that helplessness reduces motivation to acquire new skills that can improve his or her employability (Darity and Goldsmith 1993).

Three psychological theories have also been used to explain the impact of unemployment on well-being: agency restriction theory, latent deprivation theory, and reverse causation theory. Agency restriction theory explains that lack or loss of income that characterizes unemployment leads to psychological distress because the affected person has difficulty making future plans. On the other hand, latent deprivation model explains that unemployment diminishes an individual's ability to meet five critical psychological needs: time structure; expanded social network; collective responsibility; being engaged in worthwhile activities, and; high social status. Failure to meet these needs leads to elevated distress. Lastly, reverse causation theory posits that unemployment leads to diminished self-esteem. Because of poor self-esteem, the affected person is unable to secure employment.

Apart from the theoretical models described above, findings obtained from research studies have shown that unemployment leads to adverse physical and mental effects on the unemployed. For instance, Paul and Moser (2009) conducted a meta-analysis aimed at examining the topical empirical studies on the association between unemployment and health. Findings of this study showed that unemployed people have higher distress compared to their employed counterparts. Additionally, the researchers established that unemployed individuals have more psychological problems compared to their employed counterparts. Some of the mental health issues associated with unemployment include poor self-esteem, subjective well-being, psychosomatic disorders, anxiety disorders, depressive symptoms, and psychological distress. More specifically, 34% of the unemployed individuals were found to have these psychological problems compared to 16% in the unemployed group. Additionally, moderation analysis showed that unemployed blue-collar workers had higher levels of psychological distress than their white-collar job counterparts.

It has also been established that the adverse impact of unemployment on well-being is stronger in countries with weak economies, unequal distribution of income and those lacking protective systems meant to cushion the unemployed compared to other countries. These findings are in tandem with agency restriction theory which explains that lack or loss of income that characterizes unemployment leads to psychological distress because the affected person has difficulty making future plans. Furthermore, Paul and Moser (2009) established that apart from the correlational relationship between unemployment and poor mental health, unemployment leads to poor mental outcomes. This indicates that there is a causal relationship between the two variables.

In a related study, (Boyce et al. (2015) explored the impact of unemployment on the five-factor model of personality using a latent change model. The participants in the study were employed at the beginning of the study, but some lost their jobs over the duration of the study. Over a duration of one to four years, some were reemployed. Findings of this study showed that participants who lost employment experienced higher changes in their agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness levels as assessed using latent change model. On the other hand, those who remained in employment had insignificant changes in agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness levels. These findings are a manifestation that unemployment leads to increased psychological problems.


Boyce, C.J., Wood, A.M., Daly, M., Sedikides, C., 2015, 'Personality change following unemployment,' Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 100, no. 4, pp. 991.

Darity Jr, W., Goldsmith, A.H., 1993, 'Unemployment, social psychology, and unemployment hysteresis,' Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, vol. 16, no. 4, pp. 155-71.

Fryer, D., 1986, 'Employment deprivation and personal agency during unemployment: A critical discussion of Jahoda's explanation of the psychological effects of unemployment,' Retrieved from

Paul, K.I., Moser, K., 2009, 'Unemployment impairs mental health: Meta-analyses. Journal of Vocational behavior,' vol. 74, no. 3, pp. 264-282.

Quiggin, J., 1995, 'Economic choice in generalized expected utility theory. Theory and decision,' vol 38, no. 2, pp.153-171.

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