Unemployment and health: an analysis of "Canada Health Survey" data

Int J Health Serv. 1985;15(4):609-35. doi: 10.2190/0Q1G-RJG7-DPR9-V6XN.


This paper provides a cross-sectional analysis of the physical and emotional well-being of employed and unemployed workers. The data used consists of a sub-sample (N = 14,313) drawn from the Canada Health Survey's national probability sample (N = 31,688). The analysis indicates substantial health differences between employed and unemployed individuals. The unemployed showed significantly higher levels of distress, greater short-term and long-term disability, reported a large number of health problems, had been patients more often, and used proportionately more health services. Consistent with these measures, derived from self-reported data, physician-diagnosed measures also indicate a greater vulnerability of unemployed individuals to serious physical ailments such as heart trouble, pain in heart and chest, high blood pressure, spells of faint-dizziness, bone-joint problems and hypertension. While these health differences between the employed and unemployed persisted across socio-economic and demographic conditions, further analysis indicated strong interaction effects of SES and demographic variables on the association of employment status with physical and emotional health. Females and older unemployed individuals reported more health problems and physician visits whereas the younger unemployed (under 40) reported more psychological distress. The blue-collar unemployed were found to be considerably more vulnerable to physical illness whereas the unemployed with professional background reported more psychological distress. The low-income unemployed who were also the principal family earners, were the most psychologically distressed. A regional look at the data showed that the low-income unemployed suffered the most in terms of depressed mood in each region of the country. It is apparent that unemployment and its health impact reflect the wider class-based inequalities of advanced industrial societies. The need for social policies that effectively reduce unemployment and the detrimental impact of unemployment is clear.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Canada
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / etiology
  • Drug Therapy
  • Employment
  • Family Characteristics
  • Health Status
  • Health Surveys*
  • Health*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data
  • Self-Assessment
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Unemployment*