Unemployment, underemployment, and mental health: conceptualizing employment status as a continuum

Am J Community Psychol. 2003 Sep;32(1-2):9-20. doi: 10.1023/a:1025634504740.


The economy is one of the most important social environments that affect well-being, and community psychologists have long studied the social costs of one key economic stressor--job loss. But economically inadequate employment has received much less research attention than unemployment in regard to mental health effects. This paper contrasts these two literatures and considers factors that might account for their differential growth including actual rates of unemployment and underemployment. Recent panel studies offer no support for another possible basis for this differential growth--the assumption that inadequate employment is more like adequate employment than unemployment. Implications of a paradigm shift from a dichotomous perspective (employment vs. unemployment) to a continuum perspective with variations of both unemployment and employment are discussed for research and prevention. Another implication is the need to expand standard labor force statistics to reflect better the degree of underemployment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Employment / psychology*
  • Employment / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / etiology*
  • Self Concept
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Student Dropouts / psychology
  • Unemployment / psychology
  • Unemployment / statistics & numerical data