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Glossary: unemployment, job insecurity, and health
  1. M Bartley,
  2. J Ferrie
  1. International Centre for Health and Society, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London Medical School, 1–19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 6BT, UK
  1. Dr Bartley (mel{at}

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Unemployment, job insecurity, and health: key concepts

Writing a glossary on unemployment and health for an international epidemiological journal poses a number of rather daunting challenges. However, these are the sorts of challenges we need to accept in order to further the understanding of social factors in health and disease. First of all, every nation has its own ways of defining unemployment and administering benefits. Even the ideas of “unemployment” and “benefits” are less salient in many nations. The exchange of labour for money is by no means the only form of productive activity, and family and community structure form the major source of support for those not engaged in such activity in many areas of the world. In both writing and reading this glossary therefore, it is necessary to bear in mind that it deals with unemployment and health. We have confined our entries to those we felt most relevant to understanding the existing literature on this topic. We have not set out (nor could we) to write a comprehensive glossary on unemployment and benefits: there are several books that aim to do this, with varying degrees of completeness, and some of these are included in our references.

The 1990s in many developed countries saw national commitments to security of employment abandoned in favour of labour market flexibility, accompanied by large increases in part time and temporary work, self employment and fixed term contracts, as organisations in the public and private sector engaged in restructuring and downsizing. For the individual employee the corollary of labour market flexibility is job insecurity. The possible health effects of these organisational changes are becoming a lively new area of research. We therefore include some terms that are used to describe these processes.

The glossary is not merely descriptive, but is informed by a certain general approach. This is that …

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  • Funding: Mel Bartley is funded by Economic and Social Research Council Senior Fellowship number R000271112, and Jane Ferrie was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (L128251046) during the preparation of this paper.

  • Conflicts of interest: none.