High-Stress Jobs Could Result in Worse Health Than Unemployment

Low-quality jobs observed to raise biomarkers of stress and adverse health events.

Individuals who have a highly-stressful or low-paying job may have worse health than individuals who are unemployed, according to a study published by the International Journal of Epidemiology.

There is ample evidence suggesting that job quality is important for health and wellbeing; however, other studies have found that individuals with poor-quality jobs have higher life satisfaction and wellbeing than those who are unemployed.

The researchers examined the link between job transition, health, and chronic stress measured by biomarkers in 1116 adults aged 35 to 75 years who were unemployed between 2009 and 2010. The participants were included in the UK Household Longitudinal Study and followed up with between 2010 and 2012 for allostatic load biomarkers and self-reported health.

In the UK Household Longitudinal Study, the participants took part in a nurse health assessment interview, including physiological measures and blood samples.

The allostatic load index reflects the physiological consequences of chronic stress and has been used to measure work-related stress. The authors used 12 biomarkers, including insulin growth factor, creatinine clearance rate, measures of cholesterol, triglycerides, pulse, blood pressure, and waist-to-height ratio to build the index, according to the study.

The authors focused on the health of individuals who remained unemployed and those who transitioned to poor quality work. They also looked at whether there was a health effect depending on quality of the jobs.

The investigators determined job quality by considering low pay, job insecurity, control, satisfaction, and anxiety.

The investigators reported a clear pattern of the highest levels of biomarkers for participants who transitioned to poor quality jobs, while those with good quality jobs had the lowest levels, according to the study. Participants who remained unemployed were observed to have the worst physical and mental scores.

Participants who transitioned to poor quality jobs were observed to have higher levels of allostatic load.

When physical and mental health scores alone were considered, the authors found that transitioning to any job was not linked to improved physical health.

Transitioning to a good quality job was associated with improved mental health scores compared with unemployed participants; however, there were no significant differences in mental health scores between participants who transitioned into poor quality work and unemployed participants, according to the study.

The authors found that formerly unemployed participants who gained poor quality employment were more likely to develop a wide range of health problems compared with those who remained unemployed.

They also found limited evidence that the transition into a poor quality job was linked to improved health and lower levels of biomarkers for stress compared with those who remained unemployed, according to the study. The results suggest that transition to poor quality jobs was linked to higher levels of stress-related biomarkers.

"Job quality cannot be disregarded from the employment success of the unemployed," said lead study author Tarani Chandola. "Just as good work is good for health, we must also remember poor quality work can be detrimental to health."