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The scarring effect of unemployment throughout adulthood on psychological distress at age 50: Estimates controlling for early adulthood distress and childhood psychological factors

  • Daly, M.
  • Delaney, L.

Unemployment is an established predictor of psychological distress. Despite this robust relationship, the long-term impact of unemployment on human welfare has been examined in relatively few studies. In this investigation we test the association between the life-time duration of unemployment over a 34 year period from 1974 to 2008 and psychological distress at age 50 years in a sample of 6253 British adults who took part in the National Child Development Study (NCDS). In addition to adjusting for demographic characteristics, we account for the role of childhood psychological factors, which have been shown to predict adult occupational and mental health outcomes and may determine the connection between unemployment and distress. We find that intelligence and behavioral/emotional problems at age 11 predict both unemployment and psychological distress later in life. Furthermore, as predicted, the duration of unemployment throughout adulthood was associated with elevated levels of psychological distress at age 50, after adjusting for demographic characteristics including labor force status at age 50. The emotional impact of unemployment was only marginally attenuated by the inclusion of childhood factors and early-life distress levels in the analyses. Thus, unemployment may lead to worsening distress levels that persist over time and which cannot be attributed to childhood or early-life well-being or cognitive functioning early in life. Our analysis further supports the idea of psychological scarring from unemployment and the importance of employment outcomes for adult well-being.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Social Science & Medicine.

Volume (Year): 80 (2013)
Issue (Month): C ()
Pages: 19-23

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Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:80:y:2013:i:c:p:19-23
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  1. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2007. "Is Well-being U-Shaped over the Life Cycle?," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 826, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
  2. Andreas Knabe & Steffen Rätzel, 2011. "Scarring or Scaring? The Psychological Impact of Past Unemployment and Future Unemployment Risk," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 78(310), pages 283-293, 04.
  3. Smith, James Patrick & Smith, Gillian C., 2010. "Long-term economic costs of psychological problems during childhood," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 71(1), pages 110-115, July.
  4. Clark, Andrew E & Georgellis, Yannis & Sanfey, Peter, 2001. "Scarring: The Psychological Impact of Past Unemployment," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 68(270), pages 221-41, May.
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  7. Bell, David & Blanchflower, David, 2009. "What should be done about rising unemployment in the UK?," Stirling Economics Discussion Papers 2009-06, University of Stirling, Division of Economics.
  8. Denise Hawkes & Ian Plewis, 2006. "Modelling non-response in the National Child Development Study," Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A, Royal Statistical Society, vol. 169(3), pages 479-491.
  9. Goldsmith, Arthur H. & Veum, Jonathan R. & William Darity, Jr., 1996. "The impact of labor force history on self-esteem and its component parts, anxiety, alienation and depression," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 183-220, April.
  10. William T. Gallo & Elizabeth H. Bradley & Joel A. Dubin & Richard N. Jones & Tracy A. Falba & Hsun-Mei Teng & Stanislav V. Kasl, 2006. "The Persistence of Depressive Symptoms in Older Workers Who Experience Involuntary Job Loss: Results From the Health and Retirement Survey," Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Gerontological Society of America, vol. 61(4), pages S221-S228.
  11. Winkelmann, Liliana & Winkelmann, Rainer, 1998. "Why Are the Unemployed So Unhappy? Evidence from Panel Data," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 65(257), pages 1-15, February.
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