Unstable employment and health in middle age in the longitudinal 1970 British Birth Cohort Study

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Background and objectives: Jobs for life have become increasingly rare in industrialized economies, and have been replaced by shorter-term employment contracts and freelancing. This labour market change is likely to be accompanied by physiological changes in individuals who have experienced little job stability. Evolved responses to increased environmental instability or stochasticity include increased fat deposition and fight-or-flight responses, such as glucose mobilization and increased blood pressure. These responses may have evolved by natural selection as beneficial to individuals in the short-term, but are damaging in the longer term.

Methodology: This study tested whether job losses experienced between ages 30 and 42 are associated with increased body weight, hypertension and diabetes diagnosis in the 1970 British Birth Cohort, which consists of all registered births in a one-week period in April 1970.

Results: Each job loss experienced increased the odds of developing diabetes by 1.39 times (CI 1.08-1.80), and of hypertension by 1.28 times (CI 1.07-1.53). Another economic variable, higher personal debt, was associated with all three of these health outcomes: every £100 000 of debt roughly doubled the odds of gaining at least 5 kg between ages 30 and 42.

Conclusions and implications: These associations between job loss and health-risk factors suggest that our changing economy results in increases in the prevalence of risk factors for cardiovascular disease. At a broader level, they are consistent with evolutionary understandings of environmental stochasticity, and are a reminder that economic policy is also health policy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)92-99
Number of pages8
JournalEvolution, medicine, and public health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2018


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