Objectives: I examined whether unemployment while looking for a job and being out of the labor force while not seeking work have distinct effects on symptoms of depression among young women and men in the United States. I also investigated whether past unemployment duration predicts depressive symptoms.
Methods: I used ordinary least squares regression to analyze data from the 1979-1994 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.
Results: Cross-sectional results suggested that current unemployment status and out-of-the-labor-force status were significantly associated with depressive symptoms at ages 29 through 37 years. The association between being out of the labor force and depressive symptoms was stronger for men. Longitudinal results revealed that past unemployment duration across 15 years of the transition to adulthood significantly predicted depressive symptoms, net of demographics, family background, current socioeconomic status, and prior depressive symptoms. However, duration out of the labor force did not predict depressive symptoms.
Conclusions: Longer durations of unemployment predict higher levels of depressive symptoms among young adults. Future research should measure duration longitudinally and distinguish unemployment from being out of the labor force to advance our understanding of socioeconomic mental health disparities.