The Far-Reaching Impact of Job Loss and Unemployment

Annu Rev Sociol. 2015 Aug;41:359-375. doi: 10.1146/annurev-soc-071913-043237.


Job loss is an involuntary disruptive life event with a far-reaching impact on workers' life trajectories. Its incidence among growing segments of the workforce, alongside the recent era of severe economic upheaval, has increased attention to the effects of job loss and unemployment. As a relatively exogenous labor market shock, the study of displacement enables robust estimates of associations between socioeconomic circumstances and life outcomes. Research suggests that displacement is associated with subsequent unemployment, long-term earnings losses, and lower job quality; declines in psychological and physical well-being; loss of psychosocial assets; social withdrawal; family disruption; and lower levels of children's attainment and well-being. While reemployment mitigates some of the negative effects of job loss, it does not eliminate them. Contexts of widespread unemployment, although associated with larger economic losses, lessen the social-psychological impact of job loss. Future research should attend more fully to how the economic and social-psychological effects of displacement intersect and extend beyond displaced workers themselves.

Keywords: job loss; psychological and physical well-being; social withdrawal; socioeconomic mobility; unemployment; worker displacement.