Unemployment and cardiovascular diseases: a causal relationship?

Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 1997;70(3):153-60. doi: 10.1007/s004200050201.


Unemployment has become a socio-political problem of great importance in the Western industrialised countries. Although negative effects on social life and psyche resulting from unemployment are regarded as scientifically accepted today, a possible causal relationship between job loss and somatic illnesses is still a matter of controversy. A possible target organ is the cardiovascular system. The aim of this study was therefore to check by means of extensive literature analysis to what extent unemployment can be seen to influence cardiovascular morbidity. Particular attention was paid to the methods used and the clinical relevance of the results. Person-related epidemiological studies published since 1980 which investigated changes in cardiovascular risk factors associated with unemployment or prevalence rates of manifest disease influenced by unemployment were included in the final evaluation. In some cases statistically significant associations were found between unemployment and the increase in cholesterol levels or systolic/diastolic blood pressure, but the clinical relevance of such slight changes is questionable. To consider unemployment as an independent, social, cardiovascular risk factor is at present unwarranted. An increase in the prevalence rates of coronary heart disease or arterial hypertension causally linked in some studies with unemployment is scientifically questionable due to severe methodological shortcomings. On the basis of the currently available methodologically acceptable studies, the question of a quantitative contribution of unemployment to cardiovascular disease cannot be answered conclusively.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / psychology
  • Causality
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors
  • Unemployment*