UNITED KINGDOM — It seems like a no-brainer: earning steady pay is always a better predicament than being unemployed. However, a new study finds that jobless adults who take on positions with poor work environments are more vulnerable to health risks than those who remain without work.
Researchers in the United Kingdom aimed to analyze the health of unemployed adults who made the transition into poor working conditions versus those who had no job. The team used data from a study that followed 100,000 British people, focusing on 1,116 of the participants between the ages of 35-75 who were unemployed when the study began in 2009.
The authors followed up with the participants on multiple occasions over the following two years, taking blood samples and answering questions about their health.
When researchers compared adults who remained unemployed to those re-employed, but with a poor work environment, the participants working the undesirable jobs showed higher levels of allostatic load (wear and tear to the body from chronic stress). In particular, the authors looked at participants’ cholesterol, triglycerides, pulse, blood pressure, and waist-to-height ratio.
Those who were healthier prior to obtaining a job in poor working conditions were not able to explain the elevation of their health risks. Working conditions were measured by five variables: low pay, job insecurity, control, satisfaction and anxiety.
“Job quality cannot be disregarded from the employment success of the unemployed,” says Tarani Chandola, professor of medical sociology at the University of Manchester and lead author of the study’s paper, in a press release. “Just as good work is good for health, we must also remember poor quality work can be detrimental to health.”
The researchers also noted that holding a job in a higher quality work environment was linked to improved mental health, whereas those in poorer working conditions showed no difference in mental health from unemployed participants.
This study’s findings were published in August in the International Journal of Epidemiology.