A job is good, but is a good job healthier?

  • What are the consequences of unemployment and precarious employment for individuals' health in Europe? What are the moderating factors that may offset (or increase) the health consequences of labor-market risks? How do the effects of these risks vary across different contexts, which differ in their institutional and cultural settings? Does gender, regarded as a social structure, play a role, and how? To answer these questions is the aim of my cumulative thesis. This study aims to advance our knowledge about the health consequences that unemployment and precariousness cause over the life course. In particular, I investigate how several moderating factors, such as gender, the family, and the broader cultural and institutional context, may offset or increase the impact of employment instability and insecurity on individual health. In my first paper, 'The buffering role of the family in the relationship between job loss and self-perceived health: Longitudinal results from Europe, 2004-2011', I and my co-authors measure the causalWhat are the consequences of unemployment and precarious employment for individuals' health in Europe? What are the moderating factors that may offset (or increase) the health consequences of labor-market risks? How do the effects of these risks vary across different contexts, which differ in their institutional and cultural settings? Does gender, regarded as a social structure, play a role, and how? To answer these questions is the aim of my cumulative thesis. This study aims to advance our knowledge about the health consequences that unemployment and precariousness cause over the life course. In particular, I investigate how several moderating factors, such as gender, the family, and the broader cultural and institutional context, may offset or increase the impact of employment instability and insecurity on individual health. In my first paper, 'The buffering role of the family in the relationship between job loss and self-perceived health: Longitudinal results from Europe, 2004-2011', I and my co-authors measure the causal effect of job loss on health and the role of the family and welfare states (regimes) as moderating factors. Using EU-SILC longitudinal data (2004-2011), we estimate the probability of experiencing 'bad health' following a transition to unemployment by applying linear probability models and undertake separate analyses for men and women. Firstly, we measure whether changes in the independent variable 'job loss' lead to changes in the dependent variable 'self-rated health' for men and women separately. Then, by adding into the model different interaction terms, we measure the moderating effect of the family, both in terms of emotional and economic support, and how much it varies across different welfare regimes. As an identification strategy, we first implement static fixed-effect panel models, which control for time-varying observables and indirect health selection—i.e., constant unobserved heterogeneity. Secondly, to control for reverse causality and path dependency, we implement dynamic fixed-effect panel models, adding a lagged dependent variable to the model. We explore the role of the family by focusing on close ties within households: we consider the presence of a stable partner and his/her working status as a source of social and economic support. According to previous literature, having a partner should reduce the stress from adverse events, thanks to the symbolic and emotional dimensions that such a relationship entails, regardless of any economic benefits. Our results, however, suggest that benefits linked to the presence of a (female) partner also come from the financial stability that (s)he can provide in terms of a second income. Furthermore, we find partners' employment to be at least as important as the mere presence of the partner in reducing the negative effect of job loss on the individual's health by maintaining the household's standard of living and decreasing economic strain on the family. Our results are in line with previous research, which has highlighted that some people cope better than others with adverse life circumstances, and the support provided by the family is a crucial resource in that regard. We also reported an important interaction between the family and the welfare state in moderating the health consequences of unemployment, showing how the compensation effect of the family varies across welfare regimes. The family plays a decisive role in cushioning the adverse consequences of labor market risks in Southern and Eastern welfare states, characterized by less developed social protection systems and –especially the Southern – high level of familialism. The first paper also found important gender differences concerning job loss, family and welfare effects. Of particular interest is the evidence suggesting that health selection works differently for men and women, playing a more prominent role for women than for men in explaining the relationship between job loss and self-perceived health. The second paper, 'Gender roles and selection mechanisms across contexts: A comparative analysis of the relationship between unemployment, self-perceived health, and gender.' investigates more in-depth the gender differential in health driven by unemployment. Being a highly contested issue in literature, we aim to study whether men are more penalized than women or the other way around and the mechanisms that may explain the gender difference. To do that, we rely on two theoretical arguments: the availability of alternative roles and social selection. The first argument builds on the idea that men and women may compensate for the detrimental health consequences of unemployment through the commitment to 'alternative roles,' which can provide for the resources needed to fulfill people's socially constructed needs. Notably, the availability of alternative options depends on the different positions that men and women have in society. Further, we merge the availability of the 'alternative roles' argument with the health selection argument. We assume that health selection could be contingent on people's social position as defined by gender and, thus, explain the gender differential in the relationship between unemployment and health. Ill people might be less reluctant to fall or remain (i.e., self-select) in unemployment if they have alternative roles. In Western societies, women generally have more alternative roles than men and thus more discretion in their labor market attachment. Therefore, health selection should be stronger for them, explaining why unemployment is less menace for women than for their male counterparts. Finally, relying on the idea of different gender regimes, we extended these arguments to comparison across contexts. For example, in contexts where being a caregiver is assumed to be women's traditional and primary roles and the primary breadwinner role is reserved to men, unemployment is less stigmatized, and taking up alternative roles is more socially accepted for women than for men (Hp.1). Accordingly, social (self)selection should be stronger for women than for men in traditional contexts, where, in the case of ill-health, the separation from work is eased by the availability of alternative roles (Hp.2). By focusing on contexts that are representative of different gender regimes, we implement a multiple-step comparative approach. Firstly, by using EU-SILC longitudinal data (2004-2015), our analysis tests gender roles and selection mechanisms for Sweden and Italy, representing radically different gender regimes, thus providing institutional and cultural variation. Then, we limit institutional heterogeneity by focusing on Germany and comparing East- and West-Germany and older and younger cohorts—for West-Germany (SOEP data 1995-2017). Next, to assess the differential impact of unemployment for men and women, we compared (unemployed and employed) men with (unemployed and employed) women. To do so, we calculate predicted probabilities and average marginal effect from two distinct random-effects probit models. Our first step is estimating random-effects models that assess the association between unemployment and self-perceived health, controlling for observable characteristics. In the second step, our fully adjusted model controls for both direct and indirect selection. We do this using dynamic correlated random-effects (CRE) models. Further, based on the fully adjusted model, we test our hypotheses on alternative roles (Hp.1) by comparing several contexts – models are estimated separately for each context. For this hypothesis, we pool men and women and include an interaction term between unemployment and gender, which has the advantage to allow for directly testing whether gender differences in the effect of unemployment exist and are statistically significant. Finally, we test the role of selection mechanisms (Hp.2), using the KHB method to compare coefficients across nested nonlinear models. Specifically, we test the role of selection for the relationship between unemployment and health by comparing the partially-adjusted and fully-adjusted models. To allow selection mechanisms to operate differently between genders, we estimate separate models for men and women. We found support to our first hypotheses—the context where people are embedded structures the relationship between unemployment, health, and gender. We found no gendered effect of unemployment on health in the egalitarian context of Sweden. Conversely, in the traditional context of Italy, we observed substantive and statistically significant gender differences in the effect of unemployment on bad health, with women suffering less than men. We found the same pattern for comparing East and West Germany and younger and older cohorts in West Germany. On the contrary, our results did not support our theoretical argument on social selection. We found that in Sweden, women are more selected out of employment than men. In contrast, in Italy, health selection does not seem to be the primary mechanism behind the gender differential—Italian men and women seem to be selected out of employment to the same extent. Namely, we do not find any evidence that health selection is stronger for women in more traditional countries (Hp2), despite the fact that the institutional and the cultural context would offer them a more comprehensive range of 'alternative roles' relative to men. Moreover, our second hypothesis is also rejected in the second and third comparisons, where the cross-country heterogeneity is reduced to maximize cultural differences within the same institutional context. Further research that addresses selection into inactivity is needed to evaluate the interplay between selection and social roles across gender regimes. While the health consequences of unemployment have been on the research agenda for a pretty long time, the interest in precarious employment—defined as the linking of the vulnerable worker to work that is characterized by uncertainty and insecurity concerning pay, the stability of the work arrangement, limited access to social benefits, and statutory protections—has emerged only later. Since the 80s, scholars from different disciplines have raised concerns about the social consequences of de-standardization of employment relationships. However, while work has become undoubtedly more precarious, very little is known about its causal effect on individual health and the role of gender as a moderator. These questions are at the core of my third paper : 'Bad job, bad health? A longitudinal analysis of the interaction between precariousness, gender and self-perceived health in Germany'. Herein, I investigate the multidimensional nature of precarious employment and its causal effect on health, particularly focusing on gender differences. With this paper, I aim at overcoming three major shortcomings of earlier studies: The first one regards the cross-sectional nature of data that prevents the authors from ruling out unobserved heterogeneity as a mechanism for the association between precarious employment and health. Indeed, several unmeasured individual characteristics—such as cognitive abilities—may confound the relationship between precarious work and health, leading to biased results. Secondly, only a few studies have directly addressed the role of gender in shaping the relationship. Moreover, available results on the gender differential are mixed and inconsistent: some found precarious employment being more detrimental for women's health, while others found no gender differences or stronger negative association for men. Finally, previous attempts to an empirical translation of the employment precariousness (EP) concept have not always been coherent with their theoretical framework. EP is usually assumed to be a multidimensional and continuous phenomenon; it is characterized by different dimensions of insecurity that may overlap in the same job and lead to different "degrees of precariousness." However, researchers have predominantly focused on one-dimensional indicators—e.g., temporary employment, subjective job insecurity—to measure EP and study the association with health. Besides the fact that this approach partially grasps the phenomenon's complexity, the major problem is the inconsistency of evidence that it has produced. Indeed, this line of inquiry generally reveals an ambiguous picture, with some studies finding substantial adverse effects of temporary over permanent employment, while others report only minor differences. To measure the (causal) effect of precarious work on self-rated health and its variation by gender, I focus on Germany and use four waves from SOEP data (2003, 2007, 2011, and 2015). Germany is a suitable context for my study. Indeed, since the 1980s, the labor market and welfare system have been restructured in many ways to increase the German economy's competitiveness in the global market. As a result, the (standard) employment relationship has been de-standardized: non-standard and atypical employment arrangements—i.e., part-time work, fixed-term contracts, mini-jobs, and work agencies—have increased over time while wages have lowered, even among workers with standard work. In addition, the power of unions has also fallen over the last three decades, leaving a large share of workers without collective protection. Because of this process of de-standardization, the link between wage employment and strong social rights has eroded, making workers more powerless and more vulnerable to labor market risks than in the past. EP refers to this uneven distribution of power in the employment relationship, which can be detrimental to workers' health. Indeed, by affecting individuals' access to power and other resources, EP puts precarious workers at risk of experiencing health shocks and influences their ability to gain and accumulate health advantages (Hp.1). Further, the focus on Germany allows me to investigate my second research question on the gender differential. Germany is usually regarded as a traditionalist gender regime: a context characterized by a configuration of roles. Here, being a caregiver is assumed to be women's primary role, whereas the primary breadwinner role is reserved for men. Although many signs of progress have been made over the last decades towards a greater equalization of opportunities and more egalitarianism, the breadwinner model has barely changed towards a modified version. Thus, women usually take on the double role of workers (the so-called secondary earner) and caregivers, and men still devote most of their time to paid work activities. Moreover, the overall upward trend towards more egalitarian gender ideologies has leveled off over the last decades, moving notably towards more traditional gender ideologies. In this setting, two alternative hypotheses are possible. Firstly, I assume that the negative relationship between EP and health is stronger for women than for men. This is because women are systematically more disadvantaged than men in the public and private spheres of life, having less access to formal and informal sources of power. These gender-related power asymmetries may interact with EP-related power asymmetries resulting in a stronger effect of EP on women's health than on men's health (Hp.2). An alternative way of looking at the gender differential is to consider the interaction that precariousness might have with men's and women's gender identities. According to this view, the negative relationship between EP and health is weaker for women than for men (Hp.2a). In a society with a gendered division of labor and a strong link between masculine identities and stable and well-rewarded job—i.e., a job that confers the role of primary family provider—a male worker with precarious employment might violate the traditional male gender role. Men in precarious jobs may perceive themselves (and by others) as possessing a socially undesirable characteristic, which conflicts with the stereotypical idea of themselves as the male breadwinner. Engaging in behaviors that contradict stereotypical gender identity may decrease self-esteem and foster feelings of inferiority, helplessness, and jealousy, leading to poor health. I develop a new indicator of EP that empirically translates a definition of EP as a multidimensional and continuous phenomenon. I assume that EP is a latent construct composed of seven dimensions of insecurity chosen according to the theory and previous empirical research: Income insecurity, social insecurity, legal insecurity, employment insecurity, working-time insecurity, representation insecurity, worker's vulnerability. The seven dimensions are proxied by eight indicators available in the four waves of the SOEP dataset. The EP composite indicator is obtained by performing a multiple correspondence analysis (MCA) on the eight indicators. This approach aims to construct a summary scale in which all dimensions contribute jointly to the measured experience of precariousness and its health impact. Further, the relationship between EP and 'general self-perceived health' is estimated by applying ordered probit random-effects estimators and calculating average marginal effect (further AME). Then, to control for unobserved heterogeneity, I implement correlated random-effects models that add to the model the within-individual means of the time-varying independent variables. To test the significance of the gender differential, I add an interaction term between EP and gender in the fully adjusted model in the pooled sample. My correlated random-effects models showed EP's negative and substantial 'effect' on self-perceived health for both men and women. Although nonsignificant, the evidence seems in line with previous cross-sectional literature. It supports the hypothesis that employment precariousness could be detrimental to workers' health. Further, my results showed the crucial role of unobserved heterogeneity in shaping the health consequences of precarious employment. This is particularly important as evidence accumulates, yet it is still mostly descriptive. Moreover, my results revealed a substantial difference among men and women in the relationship between EP and health: when EP increases, the risk of experiencing poor health increases much more for men than for women. This evidence falsifies previous theory according to whom the gender differential is contingent on the structurally disadvantaged position of women in western societies. In contrast, they seem to confirm the idea that men in precarious work could experience role conflict to a larger extent than women, as their self-standard is supposed to be the stereotypical breadwinner worker with a good and well-rewarded job. Finally, results from the multiple correspondence analysis contribute to the methodological debate on precariousness, showing that a multidimensional and continuous indicator can express a latent variable of EP. All in all, complementarities are revealed in the results of unemployment and employment precariousness, which have two implications: Policy-makers need to be aware that the total costs of unemployment and precariousness go far beyond the economic and material realm penetrating other fundamental life domains such as individual health. Moreover, they need to balance the trade-off between protecting adequately unemployed people and fostering high-quality employment in reaction to the highlighted market pressures. In this sense, the further development of a (universalistic) welfare state certainly helps mitigate the adverse health effects of unemployment and, therefore, the future costs of both individuals' health and welfare spending. In addition, the presence of a working partner is crucial for reducing the health consequences of employment instability. Therefore, policies aiming to increase female labor market participation should be promoted, especially in those contexts where the welfare state is less developed. Moreover, my results support the significance of taking account of a gender perspective in health research. The findings of the three articles show that job loss, unemployment, and precarious employment, in general, have adverse effects on men's health but less or absent consequences for women's health. Indeed, this suggests the importance of labor and health policies that consider and further distinguish the specific needs of the male and female labor force in Europe. Nevertheless, a further implication emerges: the health consequences of employment instability and de-standardization need to be investigated in light of the gender arrangements and the transforming gender relationships in specific cultural and institutional contexts. My results indeed seem to suggest that women's health advantage may be a transitory phenomenon, contingent on the predominant gendered institutional and cultural context. As the structural difference between men's and women's position in society is eroded, egalitarianism becomes the dominant normative status, so will probably be the gender difference in the health consequences of job loss and precariousness. Therefore, while gender equality in opportunities and roles is a desirable aspect for contemporary societies and a political goal that cannot be postponed further, this thesis raises a further and maybe more crucial question: What kind of equality should be pursued to provide men and women with both good life quality and equal chances in the public and private spheres? In this sense, I believe that social and labor policies aiming to reduce gender inequality in society should focus on improving women's integration into the labor market, implementing policies targeting men, and facilitating their involvement in the private sphere of life. Equal redistribution of social roles could activate a crucial transformation of gender roles and the cultural models that sustain and still legitimate gender inequality in Western societies.show moreshow less

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Author details:Giulia TattariniORCiD
Subtitle (English):Longitudinal analyses on the health consequences of unemployment and precarious employment in Europe
Reviewer(s):Ulrich KohlerORCiDGND, Lena HippORCiDGND
Supervisor(s):Ulrich Kohler, Lena Hipp
Publication type:Doctoral Thesis
Date of first publication:2022/07/29
Publication year:2022
Publishing institution:Universität Potsdam
Granting institution:Universität Potsdam
Date of final exam:2021/11/26
Release date:2022/07/29
Tag:employment precariousness; family; gender; self-rated health; unemployment; welfare and gender regimes
Number of pages:182
RVK - Regensburg classification:MS 5350, MS 6020, QV 202
Organizational units:Extern / Extern
Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaftliche Fakultät / Sozialwissenschaften / Fachgruppe Soziologie
DDC classification:3 Sozialwissenschaften / 30 Sozialwissenschaften, Soziologie / 300 Sozialwissenschaften
License (German):License LogoUrheberrechtsschutz
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