Academic journal article Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health

Association between Change in Employment Status and New-Onset Depressive Symptoms in South Korea - a Gender Analysis

Academic journal article Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health

Association between Change in Employment Status and New-Onset Depressive Symptoms in South Korea - a Gender Analysis

Article excerpt

Objectives This study aimed to investigate the association of change in employment status with new-onset depressive symptoms, particularly differences stemming from workers' gender, in South Korea.

Methods We analyzed data from the ongoing Korean Welfare Panel Study. After excluding participants who had depressive symptoms at baseline (2007), we analyzed 2891 participants who became a precarious or permanent worker or unemployed at follow-up (2008) among waged workers who were permanent or precarious workers at baseline. Workers were classified as permanent workers if they had full-time, secure jobs and were directly hired by their employers; workers not meeting all these criteria were classified as precarious workers. Depressive symptoms were assessed annually using the 1 1 -item Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale. To reduce potential bias due to pre-existing health conditions, we also examined the association in a subpopulation excluding participants with any pre-existing chronic disease or disability.

Results Compared to those who maintained permanent employment, workers who became unemployed following precarious employment had higher odds of developing depressive symptoms [odds ratio (OR) 2.30, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.01-5.25]. In gender-stratified analyses, new-onset depressive symptoms were strongly associated with the change from precarious to permanent employment (OR 2.57, 95% CI 1 .20-5.52) as well as the change from permanent to precarious employment (OR 2.88, 95% CI 1.24-6.66) among females; no significant association was observed in the male subpopulation.

Conclusions This study found that changes from precarious to permanent work or from permanent to precarious work were associated with new-onset depressive symptoms among South Korean women.

Key terms depression; gender difference; mental health.

The number of workers in precarious employment has been increasing worldwide (1). According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) statistics, more than 1 .8 billion people - more than half the labor force in developing countries - are currently working without formal contracts and benefits and earning low wages. This number is expected to increase to two-thirds of the workforce in developing countries by 2020 (2). Evidence also demonstrates an increase in precarious employment and a decrease in permanent full-time employment in developed countries in Europe and North America (3-5).

It is well-known that unemployment is an independent risk factor for poor mental health status, including depression (6-7). For example, Brenner and Levi's research using longitudinal data on Swedish women suggests that long-term unemployment could be associated with poor psychological well-being and severe depressive reaction (8). However, much less research has been devoted to determining whether precarious employment is related to mental health outcomes, despite indications that precarious employment involves lower income, job insecurity, lower job autonomy, and poor supervisor support - all potential risk factors for depression (9-11). Several studies in Finland showed that precarious jobs, such as temporary or atypical employment, were associated with depression after adjusting for potential confounders (12-14). Another study, of female workers in South Korea, reported that precarious employment is associated with a higher prevalence of mental disorders compared to permanent employment (15). However, due to their cross-sectional design, these studies could not determine the temporal relationship between precarious employment and depression (12-15). In addition, Virtanen et al (16) showed that poor mental health conditions such as hostility and aggressiveness are predictive of temporary employment, implying a possible reverse causation: people with poor mental health conditions may be more likely to be precarious employees.

Even among prospective studies, the association between precarious employment and depression is controversial. …

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