Intended for healthcare professionals


Unemployment and health

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 11 March 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b829
  1. Danny Dorling, professor of human geography
  1. 1Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN
  1. daniel.dorling{at}

    Health benefits vary according to the method of reducing unemployment

    The best guides we have to the possible future effects of mass unemployment are studies of previous epidemics. In men who had been continuously employed for at least five years in the late 1970s, mortality doubled in the five years after redundancy for those aged 40-59 in 1980.1 Adjustment for socioeconomic variables, previous health related behaviours, and other health indicators had almost no effect on this increase.1 The increased risk of mortality after redundancy tends to be greater in men than in women2 because men are generally affected more from a prevailing belief that when things go wrong no one will be there to help.3

    The detrimental effects of unemployment were widely recognised after the great depression of the 1930s. However, by the early 1980s unemployment became viewed, as it was by some in the very early 1930s, as a “price worth paying.” We learnt through bitter experience again that it was not. By 2009 even the leader of the British Conservative Party argued that, “Unemployment is never a price worth paying and we need to take very big, bold and radical steps to help unemployed people back to work.”4

    Research into mass unemployment during the early 1990s …

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