Objectives: The objective of this study was to assess whether recurrent involuntary job loss among US workers nearing retirement resulted in increasingly less severe changes in depressive symptoms with successive job losses.
Methods: With data drawn from the US Health and Retirement Survey (HRS), we used repeated measures longitudinal analysis to investigate the effect of recurrent job loss on follow-up depressive symptoms, measured up to 2 years following job loss. Study participants include 617 individuals, aged 51-61 years at the 1992 study baseline, who had at least one job loss between 1990 and 2000. Our primary outcome variable was a continuous measure of depressive symptoms, constructed from the 8-item Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression (CES-D) battery administered at every HRS wave. A second, dichotomous outcome, derived from the continuous measure, measured clinically relevant depressive symptoms. The exposure (recurrent job loss) was defined by binary dummy variables representing two and three/four job losses. All job losses were the result of either plant closing or layoff.
Results: Our main finding indicates that, after relevant covariates are controlled, compared to one job loss, two job losses result in a modest increase in the level depressive symptoms (not significant) at two-year follow-up. Three or more job losses result, on average, in a decline in depressive symptoms to a level near pre-displacement assessment (not significant). Somewhat in contrast, two job losses were found to be associated with increased risk of clinically relevant depressive symptoms.
Conclusions: The principal finding confirms our hypothesis that, among US workers nearing retirement, repeated exposure to job separation results in diminished effects on mental health. Adaptation to the job loss stressor may underlie the observed response, although other explanations, including macroeconomic developments, are possible.