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Journal Article

Psychological well-being and reactions to multiple unemployment events: adaptation or sensitisation?


Publication date

Sep 2012


Background Unemployment has been negatively
associated with psychological well-being. This study examines the
effect of multiple unemployment spells, specifically whether people
become sensitised or adapt to unemployment if they are previously
employed or economically inactive.
Methods Data come from waves 1–17 of the
British Household Panel Survey. Psychological well-being was measured
using the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12), and employment
status was self-reported. Multilevel modelling was used to examine the
effects of unemployment, overall and by previous employment status, on
Results Without consideration of prior
employment status, psychological well-being was poorer at each
unemployment spell. Previously employed persons had significantly higher
GHQ-12 scores at the first and second unemployment spells but not at
the third spell (ptrend<0.0001). Previously economically
inactive persons had poorer psychological well-being at all unemployment
spells, with significantly higher scores at the third spell than those
at the first two spells (ptrend=0.0004). Thus, those employed
prior to all unemployment spells adapted, while those previously
economically inactive became more sensitised with additional
unemployment spells. Pre-study unemployment and average annual household
income moderated the effects of unemployment; effects varied by
previous employment status and unemployment spell number.
Conclusions The findings suggest that
initially employed people who experience repeated unemployment cope
better psychologically if they are able to regain employment in between
unemployment spells. Those who make several attempts to re-enter the
labour market following economic inactivity have a more difficult time,
becoming more distressed with each try. This has implications for people
affected by welfare to work policies.

Published in

Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health

Volume and page numbers

66 , 832 -838





Unemployment and Well Being


Albert Sloman Library

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