For millions of years, men were hunters and gatherers, competing daily for survival by hunting large game to feed their families. In today's world, hunting is done for sport, and gathering food is as easy as a trip to the supermarket.
But daily competition and striving are still an important part of our lives, and unemployment not only drains savings accounts but also has deleterious effects on mental health. On average, unemployed workers report higher levels of depression and dissatisfaction with their lives—feelings that intensify as unemployment continues.
And it seems that unemployment may have yet another downside: it appears to affect men at a cellular level that hastens the aging process.
Less Work Means Quicker Aging
A new study published in the journal PLOS ONE shows that even two years of unemployment can affect a person’s telomeres, the ends of our chromosomes that protect the genetic code from being degraded. As we age, our telomeres become shorter, and shorter telomeres have been associated with shorter lives.
“Shorter telomeres are linked to higher risk of various age-related diseases and earlier death. Stressful life experiences in childhood and adulthood have previously been linked to accelerated telomere shortening,” Dr. Jessica Buxton of the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London said in a statement. “We have now shown that long-term unemployment may cause premature aging too.”
Researchers at Imperial College London and the University of Oulu, Finland, studied DNA samples from 5,620 men and women born in Finland in 1966 which were collected in 1997 when all participants were 31 years old. Controlling for other factors, they discovered the lasting effects of being without work.
The researchers discovered that men who had been unemployed for more than two of the three preceding years were twice as likely to have short telomeres than their fully employed counterparts.
Does Unemployment Affect Men More?
But researchers say these results were only present in men. One explanation is that fewer women in the study had been unemployed for long periods of time in their 30s. Researchers say more studies are needed to see if the effect is the same in women.
According to the University of Oulu's Dr. Leena Ala-Mursula, previous research has linked long-term unemployment with poor health. But their study is the first to show it at cellular level.
“These findings raise concerns about the long-term effects of joblessness in early adulthood,” she said. “Keeping people in work should be an essential part of general health promotion.”
The latest tabulations from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show 7.3 percent of the eligible U.S. workforce is unemployed.