Not Losing It After Losing a Job

Study shows unemployment has little long-term psychological effects

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Nearly 10 percent of the nation is unemployed, and the vast majority of these individuals will end up as satisfied with life as they were before they lost their jobs.

Or so say the authors of a new study. "Unemployment rates continue to be historically high in the United States and other countries," said the study's lead author, Isaac Galatzer-Levy, PhD, now at New York University School of Medicine. "There's a real concern that this will have long-term implications on the mental well-being of a large portion of the work force, but this analysis suggests that people are able to cope with a job loss relatively well over time."

Researchers looked at data from 774 participants who had all lost their jobs at some point during the German Socioeconomic Panel Data study, a nationally representative survey of German households conducted every year from 1984 to 2003. In addition to questions about their sex, age, education and employment status, participants were asked, "How satisfied are you nowadays with your life as a whole?" and told to answer on a scale of 1 (not satisfied at all) to 10 (fully satisfied).

The participants were divided into four groups based on their life satisfaction reports with the largest (69 percent) reporting a relatively high and stable level of life satisfaction before losing their jobs. A year after their job-loss, these participants were shown to have satisfaction levels similar to what they were a year earlier despite their current employment status. The people in this group were no more or less likely to regain employment by the end of the study.

Some 15 percent of respondents reported their well-being to be gradually improving before losing their jobs, which leveled off in the four years following their unemployment. A third group of 13 percent reported relatively low levels of life satisfaction before job loss. Their levels stayed basically the same throughout the time of the study, while the fourth group of 4 percent reported declining satisfaction in the years leading up to unemployment, which continued to decline after job loss. Satisfaction-levels for the 4-percent group began to increase in the third year, however.

"These are people who are losing jobs not due to fault of their own, but because they're the victims of large market forces," said Galatzer-Levy.

Previous studies using the same data suggested people never really returned to pre-unemployment levels of life satisfaction, but Galatzer-Levy's analysis used a different analytical model and found contrasting results.

"We are able to identify these distinct patterns that are more representative of people's different responses to unemployment," said Galatzer-Levy. "Our model suggests responses to unemployment do not represent a unified phenomenon as previously believed.

People are resilient creatures, according to many studies looking at how traumatic events such as the death of a loved one, terrorist attacks and traumatic injuries affect our sense of well-being.

"This is one of the first studies to show that this same pattern relates to unemployment," said George Bonanno, PhD, a psychology professor at Columbia University.

There are five stages of grief associated with these kinds of loses, according to psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who introduced what became known as the “five stages of grief" in 1969. These responses include: denial, anger, bargaining ("make this go away, and I will..."), depression and, finally, acceptance.

That should give some of the nation's millions of unemployed one less thing to worry about as job growth continues to stall throughout the country.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 14, 2010
Last Updated:
December 14, 2010