Getting fired or laid off from work may not only be bad for your wallet, but also be bad for your health.
A study of nearly 35,000 women shows that those who were involuntarily unemployed are more likely to have heart disease than are employed women and those who choose to stay at home, two researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
Their findings were presented today in Orlando, Florida, during the Second International Conference on Women, Heart Disease and Stroke.
“There is a need to provide health interventions that target unemployed women who are perhaps under more stress and experiencing more health problems than those who are employed or homemakers,” Dr. Sheree Marshall-Williams of the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion told Reuters Health.
Marshall-Williams and co-investigator Sari D. Hopson analyzed survey responses from 34,879 African-American and white women, aged 25 to 64 years, who were involved in the 2003 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. The women were asked about their physical and mental health and were categorized as employed, involuntarily unemployed or a homemaker
Overall, the employed women had the best health, both physically and mentally, while the involuntarily unemployed women reported the worst physical and mental health, the results indicate.
These findings remained true even when the researchers took into account the women’s overweight and diabetes status.
For example, 28 percent of unemployed women reported high blood pressure in comparison to 19 percent of employed women. Likewise, 6 percent of unemployed women said they had experienced a previous heart attack, chest pain, or stroke, compared with only 2 percent of employed women.
Employment status also seemed to have a particularly significant effect on African-American women. Unemployed black women were 2.6 times more likely to report cardiovascular disease than were employed black women.
Whether the higher heart disease risk among unemployed black and white women was due to their being laid off or the stress of not yet finding a new job - the women had all been looking for at least six months - is unknown.
“It could be a combination of both,” according to Marshall-Williams.
It’s also possible that the women had pre-existing conditions that were simply exaggerated when they lost their job or that they had become unemployed after being diagnosed with heart disease.
“In either case, the findings indicate that the unemployment may have served as a stressor to trigger the manifestation of the disease,” Marshall-Williams said.
Unemployed women - black and white - also reported the highest number of “poor mental health days” in the past month, in comparison to the other women.
The homemakers’ physical and mental health status was generally on par with that of employed women, with one exception. Homemakers were 70 percent more likely to say they had been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease.
“Thus, we see that employment appears to be protective for the women in our study,” Marshall-Williams said. “This may suggest that workplace interventions are particularly important to continue because the employed women may be benefiting from health and wellness and other support programs that are offered at their place of employment.”
For women who are fired or laid off, Marshall-Williams said they should “be aware that their status may place them at greater risk for heart disease and thus should be more vigilant about lowering stress which, in large part, can be controlled through exercise.”
Yet, both employed and unemployed women “must continue to follow recommendations regarding lowering heart disease risk by keeping a regular check on their blood pressure and cholesterol, taking opportunities to exercise, and stop smoking,” the researcher added.
Revision date: June 22, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD