Social Change and the Experience of Unemployment

By Duncan Gallie; Catherine Marsh et al. | Go to book overview

7
The Psychological Consequences of Unemployment: An Assessment of the Jahoda Thesis

JONATHAN GERSHUNY

The fact that unemployment leads to psychological distress is now well documented in the literature ( Warr 1987). Not only have a wide range of studies revealed a consistent cross-sectional association between employment status and well-tested measures of psychological health such as the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ), but longitudinal studies have demonstrated clearly the chronological sequences necessary to confirm causality. People's psychological health has been shown to grow worse when they move from employment to unemployment and to recover when they return to a job. However, what is less clearly established are the precise mechanisms that lead to psychological stress.

Two major arguments have been advanced. The first is that the major source of the distress produced by unemployment is financial. Typically unemployment leads to a sharp fall in living standards and to chronic insecurity about whether the household budget can be balanced. However, this dominant emphasis on the financial consequences of unemployment has been challenged by Marie Jahoda ( 1982), who suggests that the implications of unemployment for personal stability are much wider-ranging. As well as its manifest function of producing income, employment has an equally important set of latent functions. As Jahoda puts it:

an analysis of employment as an institution makes it possible to specify some broad categories of experience, enforced on the overwhelming majority of those who participate in it: the imposition of a time structure, the enlargement of the scope of social experience into areas less emotionally charged than family life, participation in a collective purpose and identity, and required regular activity. These categories of

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