Does employment status affect psychological well-being?

paskov marii

Marii Paskov, UK Data Service Data Impact Fellow and Research Officer at the University of Oxford, shares the outcomes of her study on the role of social class and employment status for inequality in psychological well-being in the UK.

Currently my work is focused on two distinct lines of research. First, I am an investigator on a project Intergenerational Social Mobility in Europe focusing on the relationship between the socio-economic position an individual occupies and the position in which he or she was brought up. I wrote about this project in my previous blog post. Second, I am working on a project on inequalities in psychological health and mental wellbeing. This project is a collaboration with a colleague from Nuffield College at the University of Oxford, Dr Lindsay Richards.

In a recent paper published in Social Science and Medicine Dr Richards and I study the role of social class and employment status for inequality in psychological well-being in the UK. Previous research has shown that there is a social class gradient in health but also in psychological well-being: people of lower socio-economic position – most commonly captured in terms of income, education or social class – have worse health outcomes. In this paper we use two data sources: repeated cross-sections from the Health Survey of England (HSE) and longitudinal data from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS). A particular strength of this paper is that it is based on a combination of cross-sectional (HSE) and fixed effects (BHPS) analyses over two decades allowing for a more rigid analysis of the relationship between class and psychological well-being. We find that the effect of social class on mental health disappears when we account for employment status. The effects of employment status are substantive and, unlike social class, cannot be explained away by unobserved heterogeneity. We argue that employment status deserves greater prominence in the debate as both a pathway by which the class gradient in mental health transpires, and as another dimension of inequality in mental health in its own right.

Next to publishing this work as an academic article, we also invested in to having broader impact by disseminating our findings that employment status and economic activity are relevant to understanding disparities in mental health outcomes. We presented our work at the annual European Consortium for Sociological Research. Importantly, to speak with a broader audience, we wrote a piece for the Conversation, entitled “It’s employment status, not class, that affects mental health”. The Conversation is an independent source of news and views, which is sourced from the academic community and delivered direct to the public with the help of professional editors. The Conversation is thus a great platform for researchers to publish their work in a more casual language and spread their research findings with the wider public. In addition, a piece about this research was also disseminated via the Nuffield College’s Centre for Social Investigation Blog Post Series and it was headed under Opinion News on the Oxford Martin School’s website. It is great to see that more platforms are emerging for academics share their work with broader audiences.


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