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Long-term unemployment may accelerate ageing in men

by on November 28, 2013

We’ve blogged before on the effects on unemployment, particularly in the context of young people where being out of work is said to have long-term ‘scarring’ effects; we commented that there is never a good age to be out of work.

So we were interested to see this research by Dr Leena Ala-Mursula (University of Oulu, Finland) and colleagues published last week in PLOS One. The team used members of the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1966 study, a group of men and women (they’re currently about 47 years old) who have been studied as part of an exploration of the genetic and environmental factors affecting morbidity, disease markers and social well-being throughout the life-course.

Whilst there’s been research associating long-term unemployment with ill health, this is the first study to show the effect of long-term unemployment at a cellular level. The researchers looked at telomere length in blood cells from samples collected in 1997, when the participants were aged 31. Compared to men who were continuously employed, men who had been unemployed for more than two of the preceding three years were found to be more than twice as likely to have short telomeres. This is a sign of faster ageing in their DNA.

The analysis accounted for other social, biological and behavioural factors that could have affected the result. This helps to rule out the possibility that short telomeres were linked to medical conditions that prevented the participants from working.

The trend was not seen in women. This may be because fewer women than men in the study were unemployed for long periods in their 30s. Whether long-term unemployment is more harmful for men than women later in life needs to be addressed in future studies.

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