This is the worst age to be unemployed, according to research

Anyone who has experienced involuntary unemployment knows the toll it takes. It’s financially and mentally taxing, which only gets worse the longer it takes to find a new job. While unemployment is onerous for most people, new research published in the journal Psychological Science has found 50 to be the age in which joblessness is the most psychologically damaging. 

“Besides its financial consequences, job loss is also thought to deprive individuals of psychosocial benefits…Jobs not only offer economic rewards, but also provide a major social role that defines individuals’ social standing and identity,” said Jonas Vobemer, a lecturer at the University of Bramberg, in a 2016 article in Social Indicators Research.

The link between life satisfaction and employment status is inarguable. But at what age is it the most impactful? Researchers from Purdue University sought out to pinpoint the age in which unemployment has the most devastating effect on an individual. To do so, Andrew Jebb of Purdue and a team of researchers studied the life satisfaction ratings of 1.7 million respondents from 166 nations around the globe. They sourced data from a Gallup 2016 poll that prompted responders to demarcate their life satisfaction on a scale of 0 (worst possible life) to 10 (best possible life).

The findings revealed that no matter the age of the individual, happiness consistently correlated with employment. The data followed a U-shape curve — 20 year old respondents rated their life satisfaction at around 5.5 on the 10-point scale. For respondents at age 50, that number was below 5. Interestingly, the negative correlation didn’t continue to depreciate over time; unemployed respondents of age 80+ marked their life  satisfaction above or around 5.25. 

As the data was measured from participants around the world, the findings may bring to light a universal parallel between life satisfaction and employment status as it relates to age. According to the researchers, “There was a remarkable degree of consistency across the measures and regions. For all measures and regions, employed people had higher subjective well-being than unemployed people, with differences that usually peaked around age 50 years and were lower at younger and older ages.” 

If employment is contingent to overall happiness, this begs the questions: what kind of work yields the most satisfaction? In a 2017 study, researchers at the University of Birmingham looked at the correlation between well-being and job autonomy as reported by 20,000 employees over a two-year span of time. Employees with high level management roles reported the highest levels of autonomy in their work; 90% reported ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ of autonomy within their workplace.

“The positive effects associated with informal flexibility and working at home, offer further support to the suggestion that schedule control is highly valued and important to employees “enjoying” work,” said Dr Daniel Wheatley, of University of Birmingham Business School. In light of these findings, it may not come as a surprise that the wealthy tend to occupy jobs with a great deal of autonomy, or rather, jobs that allow them the luxury of time.

Autonomy and financial status aside, what really matters is having a job. “Being employed satisfies a psychological need, a need which must be filled to maintain good mental health,” said Jennifer R. Pharr in the journal International Scholarly Research Notices

Unemployment may be the most burdensome for those around age 50, but it is universally damaging to most individuals, no matter their age or circumstance. The conclusion of these findings are particularly hard-hitting when considering the current state of the job market today.