May 9, 2011, Updated September 12, 2012

Unemployment is found to be profoundly linked to early mortality in men, according to an Israeli researcher at Canada’s McGill University.

Eran Shor

Prof. Eran Shor from Israel has found a strong link between unemployment and early mortality in men.

Rampant unemployment in America has caused higher rates of hopelessness than ever before. These are feelings that can end in suicide or deadly behaviors. According to a new study by the Israeli researcher Prof. Eran Shor at McGill University in Canada, employment can help keep a man healthy, and job quality may also play an important role.

Shor and his colleagues looked at data from millions of people around the world in the largest study of its kind. Using meta-analysis techniques, the researchers demonstrated a strong causal relationship between unemployment and length of life – especially in men. The rate of premature death for unemployed men was considerably higher, at 78 percent, than for unemployed women at 37%.

Particularly at risk are those under 50. And not just any job will do the trick. Researchers believe that a man needs to be matched with a job at his skill level in order to avoid the stress that might lead to early mortality.

No differences between countries

Born in Israel, Shor has an undergraduate and master’s degree in psychology and sociology from the University of Haifa and a doctorate from Stony Brook University in New York.

His study took a fresh look at research from around the world, covering 20 million people in 15 countries over the last 40 years. The findings were published in the March 2011 issue of the journal Social Science & Medicine.

“We combined results of all the studies on these subjects in the past, and looked at … the statistical results to get a mean effect — a summarizing effect of all these studies,” says Shor.

In the past, it was hard to know if a man who was unemployed was jobless because of predispositions to drug use or alcoholism, both behaviors that also can lead to early death.

But the new study included these factors and found that this was not the case. When the men can’t bring home the bacon, it stresses them out, which in turn raises their risk for cardiovascular disease, for instance.

Surprisingly, the researchers found no differences between men in different countries. Support systems like universal healthcare and welfare, which are available in Canada and Scandinavian countries, didn’t seem to ease the level of mortality among the unemployed.

“We couldn’t find an effect,” Shor says. “There might be reasons why things that happen in the US might not happen in Canada. I am not saying the welfare system is not necessary, but the results were a bit surprising.”

Unemployment leads to unhealthy behaviors

“In the literature, there are some suggestions that men would be more affected by unemployment than women,” says Shor. “Both men and women are harmed by unemployment, but it’s more severe for men. One interesting thing that other studies had a hard time gauging was whether this was a causal effect.”

The results of the new study didn’t support the notion that people at greater risk were unhealthy to begin with. “We strictly looked at unemployment and mortality, but there is some evidence that suggests that stressful and low-status jobs are even worse,” says Shor, which indicates that government policies for getting the unemployed back in the saddle must take an individualized approach.

He explains: “Just looking for any job, low wage, high stress, unhealthy jobs – this is not helpful, so we should target other things and initiate programs for stress reduction. One of the main things we see happening when unemployment increases is stress, and then drug use, and alcoholism.

“One might say: is that really it? Because of drug use these people find it harder to find a job? We think that unemployment directly leads to these behaviors,” Shor notes.

The jobless may be able to fight the numbers by avoiding the kinds of behaviors that can lead to early death. “We should be targeting this with interventions,” Shor concludes.

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