Context affects the experience of unemployment. Raymond “Dmitri” Beljan, Flickr CC

Unemployment and Well-Being

Sociologists of mental health study how the broader social forces surrounding individual circumstances affect psychological well-being. For example, unemployment affects well-being, but how might this relationship depend on the unemployment rate in your country?

In Social Forces, Esteban Calvo, Christine A. Mair, and Natalia Sarkisian ask how individual employment status and national labor force context interact to affect individual life satisfaction in 95 countries over almost 30 years by looking at people who are working, unemployed, in school, or retired. The study’s findings show that people adapt to different labor force statuses in ways that are contingent on the national employment context. Unemployed people have the lowest life satisfaction across the board, and this is exacerbated for those who live in high unemployment countries. In fact, regardless of their own labor status, individuals in these high unemployment countries have lower life satisfaction—in other words, the stressful experience of living in a high unemployment context affects everyone.

In a related finding, students experience the greatest life satisfaction “premium” in high unemployment countries. That means going to school may be a common (and successful) strategy for delaying and avoiding the stressful conditions of a weak labor market. One implication is that social policies directed at alleviating the effects of unemployment should consider education programs to bolster well-being.