Background Close to half a million young people are currently unemployed in the UK. Several studies show that youth unemployment is associated with worse mental health in later life. Few have looked at whether this association is limited to certain groups or is pervasive across the population. Our study aims to assess which factors moderate the effect of youth unemployment on mental health measured in the mid-twenties.
Methods We use data from Next Steps (formerly the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England) a cohort of secondary school children recruited at age 14 and followed up to age 25. We measure youth unemployment as six or more months worklessness between ages 18–20 (2008–2010), a period which includes the high youth unemployment rates which followed the global financial crisis. Our measure of mental health is the 12-Item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) Likert score collected at age 25. We use multivariate OLS regression and add interaction terms to models to assess whether the association between youth worklessness and GHQ scores differs by: gender, locus of control (measured at age 15), parental socioeconomic class (age 14), and adolescent neighbourhood characteristics.
Results Our sample consists of 4,047 individuals, 14.4% of whom experienced six or more months worklessness between ages 18–20. Preliminary results show youth worklessness is associated with worse GHQ scores at age 25 (beta=0.13, 95% CI=0.043–0.218), an association which is somewhat attenuated adjusting for GHQ scores at age 15 (beta=0.08, 95% CI=-0.006–0.168). Comparing across groups, a significant association is only found amongst males (beta=0.18, 95% CI=0.056–0.309) and individuals from low socioeconomic class backgrounds (beta=0.13, 95% CI=0.043–0.218). (Corresponding figures for females (beta=0.017, 95% CI=-0.103–0.137) and those from higher socioeconomic class backgrounds (beta=0.012, 95% CI=-0.098–0.122).) There is little evidence that locus of control moderates the association between youth worklessness and later mental health (F-test for difference in coefficients for above vs below median locus of control: p=0.839).
Conclusion These results suggest the scarring effects of youth unemployment may be confined to certain groups. Future research should examine why youth unemployment may signal future difficulties amongst some individuals and not others. Policymakers looking to improve the long-term outcomes of unemployed young people may consider focusing on particular groups.
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