Perceived job insecurity, unemployment and depressive symptoms: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective observational studies

Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 2016 May;89(4):561-73. doi: 10.1007/s00420-015-1107-1. Epub 2015 Dec 29.


Purpose: It was shown that both job insecurity and unemployment are strongly and consistently associated with depressive symptoms. It is, however, less clear whether perceived job insecurity and unemployment constitute a comparable risk for the onset of depressive symptoms. A meta-analysis was conducted to explore this issue.

Methods: In December 2014, relevant records were identified through the databases MEDLINE, Embase and PsychINFO. Articles were included if they had been published in the last 10 years and contained a quantitative analysis on the prospective link between job insecurity and unemployment with depressive symptoms.

Results: In 20 cohort studies within 15 articles, job insecurity and unemployment were significantly related to a higher risk of depressive symptoms, with the odds ratio (OR) being modestly higher for job insecurity (1.29, 95% CI 1.06-1.57) than for unemployment (1.19, 95% CI 1.11-1.28). Sensitivity analyses revealed that the effects were strongest in studies that examined younger respondents (<40 years) and used an unadjusted statistical model. By considering the length of the observational period, it was shown that unemployment ORs were higher in shorter time lags (under 1 year), while ORs for job insecurity were increased in longer exposure-outcome intervals (3-4 years). Specifically for unemployment, ORs were highest in studies that did not control for potential health selection effects and that ascertained enduring unemployment. A statistically significant publication bias was found for studies on unemployment, but not for job insecurity.

Conclusions: The analyses revealed that both perceived job insecurity and unemployment constitute significant risks of increased depressive symptoms in prospective observational studies. By comparing both stressors, job insecurity can pose a comparable (and even modestly increased) risk of subsequent depressive symptoms.

Keywords: Depressive symptoms; Meta-analysis; Perceived job insecurity; Systematic review; Unemployment.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Depression / etiology*
  • Employment / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Observational Studies as Topic
  • Perception
  • Prospective Studies
  • Unemployment / psychology
  • Workplace / psychology