Patient Education

Healthclicks Newsletters

Men's Health

February 2014

Long-Term Unemployment May Be Linked to a Shorter Life

Losing your job can certainly be stressful. You may worry about your future—how you will pay your bills or take care of yourself and your family. Being unemployed can affect your mental and physical health. Long-term unemployment may be even more detrimental. A recent study suggests it may shorten your lifespan.


A genetic link

In the journal PLOS One, Finnish researchers detail how they discovered a genetic link between unemployment and mortality. They compiled 3 years’ worth of employment data on more than 5,600 younger adults. Nearly half were men. Study participants then provided DNA samples. Researchers analyzed the DNA in a lab, specifically looking at the length of each person’s telomeres.

Telomeres are genetic structures on the ends of your chromosomes—the DNA-containing part of your cells. They keep chromosomes together and protect them from damage as your cells divide. Over time, telomeres shorten in length. When they become too short, the cell dies. Scientists think telomeres may indicate premature aging at the cellular level.

In this study, researchers found that men—but not women—who were unemployed more than 2 years over the 3-year study period had shorter telomeres. This connection remained even after they accounted for other factors that may trim telomere length. These included body weight, socioeconomic status, education, smoking, and diseases like diabetes.

Coping strategies

Even before this telomere finding, scientific research linked unemployment to a higher risk for death. A past review of 42 studies on the topic found people who were unemployed were 63% more likely to die from any cause. Older men who have lost their jobs seem especially prone to health woes.

Experts suspect not having a job may raise your risk for death because you may gravitate toward unhealthy behaviors. In a failed effort to cope with stress, you may eat more or drink alcohol. You may isolate yourself from family and friends—a possible path to depression.

No matter how long you are unemployed, it’s important to stay healthy and properly deal with stress. Below are helpful ways to cope with the loss of a job:

  • Take some time to decide on your career goals. Ask yourself if you want a similar job or want to make a change. Talking with an employment counselor can help you make an informed decision.

  • Develop a daily schedule to keep yourself in a routine. Devote time each day to finding a new job.

  • Don’t discredit yourself. Write down your strengths and past accomplishments.

  • Review your expenses and identify areas where you can cut costs. Talk with your family about your concerns, so everyone is involved.

  • Tap into your networks. Talk with past colleagues, friends, and acquaintances about your job search. They may be able to connect you with employment opportunities.

  • Focus on your health. You’ll feel better if you exercise regularly. Also limit alcohol, smoking, and caffeine. Take a workshop or read a book to learn how to better manage your stress.


Uncover more facts about stress with this quiz. 


Online resources

American Psychological Association

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 


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