When Carles Muntaner from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and his American colleagues set out to examine the relationship between employment and mortality in young people, they thought they’d find that working youth were more likely to die. They didn’t. In fact, having jobs protected them.
Studies have shown that young workers are injured and get killed more often on the job than older workers. American workers aged 18 and 19 had the highest occupational injury rate of any group, and they were flanked by 15 to 17-year-olds in second place and 20 to 24-year-olds in third.
So the researchers decided to look at all causes of mortality in people aged 18 to 24 and see what effect employment had on the numbers. They used data from the National Health Interview Survey, which sampled over 121,000 young people and was highly representative of the American population. Then they checked the National Death Index for the two years following.
They found that young people without jobs were significantly more likely to die of any cause than employed people. Over half the deaths were due to car accidents, homicide and suicide. The effect held up even after controlling for gender, race and education. Their work will be published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
The relationship between employment and health is complex and studies investigating it have turned up conflicting results. For instance, some studies have found that when young people have jobs, they are more likely to smoke and drink. But others have found that unemployment at any age is associated with substance abuse. The researchers of this study, drawing on a body of previous research, speculate that employment could increase self-esteem, reduce exposure to violence or even just restrict the amount of idle time available.
Last year, youth employment in Canada was at a 30-year low, according to a study by the Community Foundations of Canada. In the summer of 2009, they reported, 16.3 per cent of 15 to 24-year-olds were without work. And according to the latest numbers from Statistics Canada, youth employment saw a decline in the last twelve months, in particular full-time employment. With the economy still fragile and many young people unable to find or keep jobs, unemployment’s link to ill-health and mortality is an issue worth thinking about.