Philipp Hessel and Mauricio Avendano of London School of Economics Health said they analyzed the long-term health of more than 10,000 people across Europe who left full-time education between 1956 and 1986 in the context of national unemployment rates at the time of leaving. Greater unemployment rates during the school-leaving year were associated with better health at ages 50-74 among men, but worse health among women.
It is thought temporary economic downturns may promote healthy living in young men who cannot afford to indulge in smoking, alcohol and over-eating, while providing more time for sports and other physical activity, the researchers said. They can also encourage some to become more motivated to achieve and become independent earlier, leading to better long-term career prospects and therefore better health, Hessel and Avendano said.
Conversely, women who leave school during a recession tend to get married and have children earlier, causing them to opt out of the labor market earlier, leading to poor long-term career prospects and therefore worse long-term health. Working part-time or never entering the labor market can also make women more vulnerable to poverty, particularly in the event of divorce, the researchers said.
"The recent financial crisis has led to a sharp increase in youth unemployment rates in many European countries, with Spain and Greece experiencing rates as high as 40 percent for those under age 25. Recent reports have warned of the emergence of a 'lost generation' of young people who are unable to make the transition from education to work and who will therefore suffer poor future career prospects and substantial earning losses up to 15 years after leaving school or university," Hessel said in a statement.
"This research has, for the first time, shown that youth unemployment appears to affect the long-term health of men and women quite differently."
The findings were published in the Annals of Epidemiology.
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