Losing Your Job is Worse than Losing Your Spouse, Says a New Study

I know that losing a job can be devastating–but worse than losing your spouse through divorce? Worse than being widowed?

I was shocked to read this recently, but since the article appeared in the Bloomberg News, known for its factual financial and business reporting, I knew it must be well supported by the research. No “fake news”!

Digging deeper, I found my confirmation. The article wasn’t supported by just one study, but by an aggregate of studies reviewed by the What Works Centre for Wellbeing (WWCW), which is an independent research centre based in the U.K.

The Centre envisions:

a future where the well-being of people and communities improves every year.

To this end, the Centre works with an international network of researchers, including think tanks, businesses, non-profits, and government, to produce reports on various topics related to well-being, including workplace culture and employment. Countries include the U.K., Germany, Australia, the United States, Canada, Switzerland, and others.

For their recent briefing on Unemployment, (Re-)Employment, and Well-being, the Centre reviewed over 4000 studies and included 99 in their report. Here are some of the highlights:

Losing a job causes a drop in well-being.

According to the Centre’s findings, the relationship between losing a job and a drop in well-being is no coincidence. And it’s not simply a correlation of two things happening at the same time. Extensive research and long-term studies indicate that the relationship is far stronger: losing a job actually causes a drop in well-being.

This drop in well-being is more pronounced for men than for women.

Since the Centre focuses on researching facts and gathering evidence, it offers no speculation on why research shows that job loss is harder on men than it is on women. But when I mentioned this point to a friend, he immediately identified with the statement and responded, “Well of course, because for men, our work and our identity are so closely tied together.”

Losing a job causes a drop in well-being for a spouse, especially female spouses.

The Centre defines well-being broadly as “how we’re doing”–which includes income, health, relationships, and many other factors. Just as the research shows that losing a job is particularly hard on men, the drop in well-being is particularly hard on their female spouses.

While finding new employment can increase well-being, this is not the case where the new employment is “non-standard.”

In this case, “non-standard” employment could mean someone who was formerly employed full-time getting part-time, temporary, or seasonal work. For men in this position, research in Canada indicates this had “a significant adverse impact on mental health.”

For those who experience divorce or widowhood, well-being decreases for a time and then returns to its previous level. For both men and women who experience job loss, well-being decreases and does not return to pre-unemployment levels.

In other words, losing a job is worse than losing a spouse whether through divorce or widowhood, because on average, those who are divorced or widowed recover their sense of well-being, and those who lose a job do not. A long-term study of 24,000 people living in Germany was particularly on point, with the results showing more strongly for men than for women.

Again, since the Centre focuses on gathering evidence, it offers no speculation as to why those who lose a job do not recover their previous sense of well-being. But, writes Chris Stokel-Walker:

People can move on from bereavements and divorces. The excitement of meeting someone new after a split can send the heart soaring, while people continue to struggle from unemployment, according to a 2011 meta-analysis of research carried out by academics at the Freie Universitaet Berlin.

Volunteer work and other social involvements do little to offset the damage of unemployment, but “regular religious attendance” seems to help.

While the What Works Centre for Wellbeing is not a Christian organization, I’m glad that it measured the impact of religious involvement and found some positive impact.

But I wonder, while church involvement might help someone deal with job loss, what about when the church or church agency is your employer and responsible for your job loss? That must make the sense of loss even deeper.

So if you’re struggling with job loss even years after the fact, if you still feel betrayed by your church or church agency employer and can’t seem to recover your sense of well-being, now you know why.

It’s not just you and your personal experience.

It’s backed up by solid research from an independent and international organization.

If you’re a Christian employer, to what extent do you consider the well-being of your employees in the decisions you make? If you understand well-being in the biblical sense of “shalom,” how might that inform your employment practice?

See also, How to Get Over a Painful Termination–Or Can You? and Is There a Better Way to Terminate an Employee?

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes in this article come from Unemployment, (Re-)Employment, and Well-being by the What Works Centre for Welbeing.

So what do you think – is it overstating to say that
losing a job is worse than losing a spouse?
If the research is right,
what underlying cause(s) might you identify?


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Author: April Yamasaki

I currently serve as resident author with a liturgical worship community, write online and in print publications, and often speak in churches and other settings. Publications include On the Way with Jesus, Four Gifts, Sacred Pauses, and other books on Christian living. Websites: AprilYamasaki.com and WhenYouWorkfortheChurch.com.

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