A new study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology finds that American workers may be more prone to depression resulting from job loss than European workers.
What some commentators refer to as the "Great Recession" of 2008 resulted in severe job losses across Europe and the US. And researchers know from previous evidence that job loss among workers is associated with increased depression, substance use and poorer health.
As the researchers behind the new study consider unemployment benefit programs to be less comprehensive than those offered by their European counterparts, they theorized that American workers are potentially more susceptible to depression due to income loss.
The researchers tested this hypothesis in the first study to compare how associations of unemployment and depression differ across different countries. They drew data from the Health and Retirement Survey and the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe during 2004-2010, which looked at 38,356 participants in total.
The European study participants were rated on the Euro-Depression scale, while the American participants were assessed using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale.
The findings may illustrate that the more generous European benefit system depletes individual wealth less before retirement, contributing to greater financial security for workers.
Overall, the researchers found that job loss was associated with a 4.8% increase in depression scores in the US and a 3.4% increase in Europe.
However, the researchers also collected data on reasons for job loss, for instance, if a worker lost their job due to redundancy, mutual agreement, or if their firm or plant closed down.
Factoring in reason for job loss, the researchers found that when workers lost their jobs due to plant closure, the depressive symptom scores increased by 28.8% in the US, compared with just 7.5% in Europe.
Also, the influence of wealth was different between the US and Europe.
"In the USA," says lead researcher Carlos Riumallo-Herl, "the impact of job loss is significantly stronger for those with little or no wealth than for wealthier individuals, and the impact of job loss due to plant closure was stronger than in Europe.
"In contrast, we observed significant but weaker effects of job loss on depressive symptoms in Europe, which were not modified by pre-existing levels of wealth."
Are disparities influenced by differences in unemployment programs?
According to the researchers, the findings may reflect that the more generous European benefit system depletes individual wealth less before retirement, contributing to greater financial security for workers.
The study cites an example of how, in 2010, the long-term unemployment net replacement rate for a one-earner married couple with two children was 80% in the Netherlands, 86% in Sweden, but just 45% in the US.
Riumallo-Herl argues that the greater impact of depression on low-income Americans compared with their European equivalents "should prompt further research on the potential role of specific social protection programs in buffering the impact of job loss among less wealthy workers and their families."
In a linked comment, Dr. Lisa F. Berkman, Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Public Policy and of Epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, MA, writes:
"Job loss is a profoundly disruptive experience. As economies become more globalized and job transitions more common, the identification and implementation of policies that enable both societal as well as personal resilience will becomes increasingly important. This new piece of research points us in the right direction."
In 2009, Medical News Today reported on a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that suggested population health improves during recession. The study found that life expectancy actually rose during the Great Depression of 1930-1933 and other times of economic recession.