The threat of job loss affects worker health

Prolonged exposure to the threat of job loss is associated with the most adverse health consequences for middle-aged workers. Young workers, in contrast, report fewer health penalties in response to job insecurity. Short-term job insecurity has little health effects.

McMaster Researcher


Glavin, Paul. 2015. “Perceived Job Insecurity and Health: Do Duration and Timing Matter?” The Sociological Quarterly 56(2):300-328.

What is this research about?

Insecure work is now prevalent in North America. Perceptions of job insecurity have steadily increased in the labour market since the 1980s. Researchers have revealed how these perceptions are associated with a range of negative health effects—including anxiety, depression and high blood pressure.
Perceived job insecurity is considered a chronic stressor, given its non-discrete and continuous nature. The health penalties associated with the experience are therefore likely to accrue over time. This study looks specifically at the effects that duration and age have on the health penalties sustained from job insecurity.

What did the researchers do?

The researcher used survey data based on interviews with a large and diverse sample of American workers. Participants were asked to report feelings of distress, anger, perceived job insecurity, and their general level of health. The study first interviewed participants in 2005 and again in 2007 to observe changes in health over a two-year period. The researcher examined these results with respect to age and duration to draw conclusions.

What did the researchers find?

Short-term, episodic encounters with job insecurity have no observable health effects. In contrast, prolonged exposure to the threat of job loss leads to increased psychological distress and poorer health.
The age at which job insecurity is experienced influences the severity of the health penalties. Negative health consequences are lowest for young workers (age 18-44). This could be because young workers do not have financial dependents, as middle-aged workers do, which lowers the perceived consequences of future job loss. Alternatively, young workers enter a workforce where job insecurity is already prevalent, so they may view insecurity as usual.
Middle-aged workers (age 45-54) experience the greatest anger at job insecurity. Other than that, the health consequences of middle-aged workers do not differ greatly from older workers (age 55-65). This evidence suggests that age is a factor in determining health impacts of perceived job insecurity.

How can you use this research?

This research may be of interest to labour unions, human resource organizations, and healthcare professionals, since it highlights who is most at-risk to the health effects brought on by job insecurity.  These groups can use this research to create services to address these needs and improve employee health.

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