Previous research (and conventional wisdom) suggests that having a job—even a bad one—is better for your health than not having one at all. But a new paper published in the International Journal of Epidemiology reports that people in stressful or low paying jobs aren’t any better off health-wise than people who are unemployed.
Researchers from the University of Manchester studied 1,116 participants between 35 and 75-years-old who were unemployed between 2009 to 2010.
They were followed up with between 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, when the researchers used a variety of measures to compare the mental and physical health of people who remained unemployed to those who found jobs.
In addition to self-reports and job quality variables like insecurity, low pay and satisfaction, researchers used something called the allostatic load index, a commonly used method to measure someone’s exposure to chronic stress using markers like cholesterol, pulse and blood pressure.
They found that, unsurprisingly, people who got good quality jobs had the lowest levels of stress. But interestingly, there was no difference in mental health scores between people who were still unemployed and those who found “poor quality work,” according to the study’s press release. Plus, “formerly employed adults who transitioned into poor quality jobs had higher levels of overall allostatic load.” This means that compared to those who stayed unemployed, people who went back to bad jobs were at increased risk for a variety of health issues, as the press release explained, specifically those “associated with higher levels of chronic stress-related biomarkers compared to remaining unemployed.”
“Just as good work is good for health, we must also remember poor quality work can be detrimental to health,” lead study author Tarani Chandola, a professor of medical sociology at the University of Manchester, said in the press release.
While this study looked at a UK population, the findings coincide with the release of a U.S. survey showing that the American workplace is a more stressful environment than many realize. Both of these reports are an important reminder that what goes on at work has a huge impact on your life—and health—outside of the office.
Read the press release here.