Unemployment Can Be Deadly for Uneducated White Women

Previous studies have established a steep decline in the life expectancy of white women without a high school diploma. New research indicates that along with smoking, being unemployed is "strongly associated with higher death rates."

According to data recorded between 1990 and 2008, white women without a high school diploma died about five years earlier than previous generations, while the life expectancy of black and Hispanic women with the same level of education rose. There was no explanation for the mortality gap, but researchers theorized that "more risky behavior" than their ancestors, like single motherhood, prescription drug abuse, and smoking could be the cause.

The new study—published in The Journal of Health and Social Behavior this week—sought a more concrete explanation, and used a health survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, on 47,000 women ages 45 to 84. It weighed more than a dozen factors like poverty, obesity, homeownership, marital status and alcohol consumption, which all proved to not matter all that much.

Smoking, of course, contributed to the death rate, but perhaps more surprisingly, joblessness was a big factor. But why would that affect physical health?

[Jennifer Karas Montez, the study’s lead author, a researcher at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies] said there was some evidence that having a job offered intangible benefits that could improve health, including a sense of purpose and control in life, as well as providing networks that help to reduce social isolation.

Joblessness Shortens Lifespan of Least Educated White Women, Research Says [NYT]

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