We never bounce back from being unemployed, research shows

Losing a job creates a ‘new normal’ for our wellbeing that never goes back to pre-unemployment levels, a new international study reveals.

Unemployment is damaging to people’s wellbeing regardless of their age, gender, level of education, ethnicity or part of the country in which they live. A new study that looks at the impact of unemployment across a number of countries finds that joblessness tops even divorce or widowhood in its impact on our life satisfaction. And the evidence shows we do not ever adapt to unemployment.

The longitudinal study of 24,000 people found on average that individuals had lower life satisfaction following unemployment and this never recovered to the pre-unemployment levels. These results applied to men and women, but the effects stronger for men.

Men were found to be happier than women once in a new job.

But what type of job people were employed in was a major factor for feeling upbeat: temporary jobs fared worse for wellbeing than permanent work.

The research also shows the following factors improve unemployed people’s wellbeing:

Social support

Those who can rely on social support from family and friends suffer less.


Extroverts suffer less but conscientious individuals suffer more.


Those with skills or who are more adaptable suffer less.

Other people being unemployed. In the UK, there may be less stigma associated with unemployment where the local unemployment rate is higher, and this results in a smaller the reduction in wellbeing from being unemployed.

Nancy Hey, director of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, says, ‘We know work is an important part of what helps us thrive, even beyond its importance as a source of income. It gives us a sense of identity and place in our community. This evidence helps us understand the potentially scarring effects, especially of the long-term unemployed.’

Professor Sara Connolly, of the University of East Anglia and a co-author of the study, commented: ‘Unemployment is very damaging for wellbeing whether you are a man, women, well or poorly educated, and whilst wellbeing improves upon re-employment this effect does reflect the quality of the job.’

Further reading

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the Smallbusiness.co.uk and Growthbusiness.co.uk titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the Express.co.uk.

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