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Does Unemployment Hurt Less if There Is More of It Around?: A Panel Analysis of Life Satisfaction in Germany and Switzerland

  • Daniel Oesch
  • Oliver Lipps

This paper examines the existence of a habituation effect to unemployment: Do the unemployed suffer less from job loss if unemployment is more widespread, if their own unemployment lasts longer and if unemployment is a recurrent experience? The underlying idea is that unemployment hysteresis may operate through a sociological channel: if many people in the community lose their job and remain unemployed over an extended period, the psychological cost of beingunemployed diminishes and the pressure to accept a new job declines. We analyze this question with individual-level data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (1984-2009) and the Swiss Household Panel (2000-2009). We find no evidence for a mitigating effect of high surrounding unemployment on unemployed individuals' subjective well-being: Becoming unemployed hurts as much when regional unemployment is high as when it is low. Likewise, the strongly harmful impact of being unemployed on well-being does not wear off over time, nor do repeated episodes of unemployment make it any better. It thus appears doubtful that an unemployment shock becomes persistent because the unemployed become used to, and hence reasonably content with, being without a job.

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Paper provided by DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) in its series SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research with number 393.

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Length: 29 p.
Date of creation: 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:diw:diwsop:diw_sp393
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  1. Stutzer, Alois & Lalive, Rafael, 2001. "The Role of Social Work Norms in Job Searching and Subjective Well-Being," IZA Discussion Papers 300, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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  3. Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, 2001. "What Can Economists Learn from Happiness Research?," CESifo Working Paper Series 503, CESifo Group Munich.
  4. Clark, Andrew E. & Diener, Ed & Georgellis, Yannis & Lucas, Richard E., 2006. "Lags and Leads in Life Satisfaction: A Test of the Baseline Hypothesis," IZA Discussion Papers 2526, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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  6. Aberg, Rune, 2001. "Equilibrium Unemployment, Search Behaviour and Unemployment Persistency," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 25(2), pages 131-47, March.
  7. Gert G. Wagner & Joachim R. Frick & Jürgen Schupp, 2007. "The German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP): Scope, Evolution and Enhancements," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 1, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  8. Beatrix Brügger & Rafael Lalive & Josef Zweimüller, 2009. "Does Culture Affect Unemployment? Evidence from the Röstigraben," CESifo Working Paper Series 2714, CESifo Group Munich.
  9. Andrew E. Clark, 2006. "A note on unhappiness and unemployment duration," PSE Working Papers halshs-00590444, HAL.
  10. Assar Lindbeck & Sten Nyberg & Jšrgen W. Weibull, 1999. "Social Norms And Economic Incentives In The Welfare State," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 114(1), pages 1-35, February.
  11. Andrew Clark, 2001. "Unemployment As A Social Norm: Psychological Evidence from Panel Data," DELTA Working Papers 2001-17, DELTA (Ecole normale supérieure).
  12. Nik Theodore, 2007. "New Labour at work: long-term unemployment and the geography of opportunity," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 31(6), pages 927-939, November.
  13. Nick Carroll, 2005. "Unemployment and Psychological Well-Being," CEPR Discussion Papers 492, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.
  14. Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell & Paul Frijters, 2004. "How Important is Methodology for the estimates of the determinants of Happiness?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(497), pages 641-659, 07.
  15. 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.
  16. William A. Darity & Arthur H. Goldsmith, 1996. "Social Psychology, Unemployment and Macroeconomics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 10(1), pages 121-140, Winter.
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