OHS Canada Magazine

Link between mortality and unemployment, study says

December 9, 2013

Health & Safety Health & Safety Injury, Illness Prevention Labour/employment

(Canadian OH&S News)

(Canadian OH&S News)

Recent research from the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) in Toronto suggests a link between unemployment and mortality. Specifically, people who lose their jobs are more likely to die of certain causes within the succeeding decade, the study found.

Mortality following unemployment in Canada, 1991-2001 — published in the May issue of BMC Public Health and summarized in the Fall 2013 issue of the IWH’s quarterly newsletter, At Work — was based on data involving a sample of 1.6 million Canadian adults observed over a period of 11 years. The sample consisted of people who were between the ages of 30 and 69 in 1991 — a year of notably high unemployment in Canada — and who had worked for at least one week that year. Nearly seven per cent of the sample, or about 111,000 people, were unemployed at the time that that year’s long-form census was conducted.

“Consistent with results reported from other long-duration cohort studies, unemployed men and women in this cohort had an elevated risk of mortality for accidents and violence, as well as for chronic diseases,” the study said. “The persistence of elevated mortality risks over two consecutive multi-year periods suggests that exposure to unemployment in 1991 may have marked persons at risk of cumulative socioeconomic hardship.”

The institute’s research team, led by IWH president Dr. Cameron Mustard, examined the death records of sample members who passed away between June 4, 1991 and December 31, 2001, while also contrasting the mortality rates between the subjects who were employed in 1991 and those who weren’t.


Results showed that the unemployed subjects had higher mortality rates than the employed ones, even when divided into categories by cause of death. The outcome was especially true for alcohol-related disease, from which the unemployed subjects were twice as likely to have died as the employed subjects were. The study measured similar statistics for respiratory diseases (which accounted for a 40 per cent higher mortality rate with unemployed men and 60 per cent higher for unemployed women), circulatory diseases (20 and 40 per cent higher for unemployed men and women respectively), malignant neoplasms, accidents and violence and other causes.

The study also examined the sample in terms of age ranges, specifically 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. “The study’s third hypothesis, that there would be no difference by age in the relative risk of mortality among the unemployed, was clearly rejected,” the study read.

The study is available online at http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/13/441.


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