Is unemployment and low income harmful to health? Evidence from Britain

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This study investigates how unemployment and income influence the length of time an individual remains in good health. This is a complex relationship since unemployment or low income deteriorates health but poor health can become a barrier to obtaining higher income or gaining re-employment. Data are from the British Household Panel Survey, using two measures of physical health: an index of mobility problems and a measure of self-assessed health. The results show that unemployment, low income and poor education adversely affect the time that people remain in good health. These results have important implications for public policy, particularly in an age of austerity when social protection mechanisms are under threat. In fact, the results suggest that to improve health and reduce health inequality, more investment needs to be directed at policies that enhance labour force participation, improve education and reduce income inequality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-60
Number of pages27
JournalReview of Social Economy
Issue number1
Early online date13 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

The authors thank Ian McAvinchey for helpful comments.
This work was financially supported by the European Commission under the Fifth Framework Programme “Quality of Life and Management of Living Resources” [grant number QLRT-2001-02292].


  • unemployment
  • health


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