Growing Up with Unemployment: A Longitudinal Study of Its Psychological Impact

By Anthony H. Winefield; Marika Tiggemann et al. | Go to book overview

1

Introduction

There are many reasons for studying the effects of unemployment on young people. In the first place, when the overall level of unemployment is high, as it is during the current recession, it is young people who are the most affected. Also, although the ongoing distress may be less severe in the young unemployed than it is in older people, the effects of unemployment may be more long lasting and produce not only psychological damage, but also negative attitudes to work or even negative attitudes to society.

In a famous review of the literature on the psychological effects of unemployment during the 1930s, Eisenberg and Lazarsfeld (1938) comment:

The unemployment of youth is probably one of the most serious problems that has had to be faced in the present depression. Statistical data indicate that the age group under 20 was the hardest hit as far as employment was concerned…. In general, we obtain the same effects upon the personality of unemployed youth as upon that of unemployed adults, but because of the greater susceptibility of youth and because they are going through a transition period between childhood and maturity these effects are probably more lasting. Youth has in addition the problem of his first job. He has typically never worked before, and the job that he gets may very well determine his entire vocational future.

(Eisenberg and Lazarsfeld, 1938:383)

The transition from school to work is recognised by developmental psychologists as a significant phase in the maturation of young people. It represents their initiation into the adult world. For the vast majority, their first job means that they are no longer completely dependent on their parents financially. On the other hand, the new financial independence is contingent upon their performance on the job and thus carries with it responsibilities such as being punctual, industrious, competent and socially agreeable. It also replaces a peer group of adolescents (school mates) with a peer group of adults (fellow workers).

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