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Loneliness may increase risk of unemployment, study finds

The relationship between unemployment and loneliness can create a vicious cycle

Unemployment concept with fired woman
Photo (c) sukanya sitthikongsak - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Exeter explored how loneliness may influence employment status.

Ultimately, the team identified a link between the two; those who experience loneliness may be more likely to be unemployed down the road, while those who are unemployed may be more likely to feel lonely

“Given the persisting and potentially scarring effects of both loneliness and unemployment on health and the economy, prevention of both experiences is key,” said researcher Nia Morrish. “Decreased loneliness could mitigate unemployment, and employment abate loneliness, which may in turn relate positively to other factors including health and quality of life. Thus, particular attention should be paid to loneliness with additional support from employers and government to improve health and well-being. 

“Our research was largely conducted pre-pandemic, however, we suspect this issue may be even more pressing, with more people working from home and potentially experiencing isolation because of anxieties around COVID.” 

The link between loneliness and unemployment

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from more than 15,000 people enrolled in the Understanding Society Household Longitudinal Study. The team looked at survey responses from 2017-2019, and 2018-2020, while also taking into account several important factors, including age, marital status, gender, education, ethnicity, and the number of children the participants had. 

The researchers learned that loneliness seemed to be directly linked with employment. Participants who reported feeling lonely at any point throughout the study were nearly 18% more likely to become unemployed down the road. The opposite was also true – participants who were unemployed at any stage of the study were more likely to report feeling lonely. 

“While previous research has shown that unemployment can cause loneliness, ours is the first study to identify that lonely people of any working age are at greater risk of becoming unemployed,” said Dr. Ruben Mujica-Mota. “Our findings show that these two issues can interact and create a self-fulfilling, negative cycle. There is a need for greater recognition of the wider societal impacts of loneliness in the working age population.” 

Moving forward, the researchers hope more work is done by employers and legislators to help employees who may be struggling with loneliness. 

“Loneliness is an incredibly important societal problem, which is often thought about in terms of the impact on mental health and well-being only,” said researcher Atonieta Medina-Lara. “Our findings indicate that there may also be wilder implications, which could have negative impacts for individuals and the economy. We need to explore this further, and it could lay foundations for employers or policymakers to tackle loneliness with a view to keeping more people in work.” 

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