Hating Your Early Career Can Affect Health in Your 40s

Hating Your Early Career Can Affect Health in Your 40s
Feeling unhappy at work like this ridiculed young businessman could affect his health into his 40s. Photo courtesy Flickr.com/Simone Lovati.

The first job out of school often involves filing, data entry, and other grunt work, but workers can move up into jobs they love as their career advances. However, a new study has found that even as workers move on in their careers, having a job they hate in their 20s and 30s can have a negative effect on their health into their 40s.

The study comes from doctoral student Jonathan Dirlam and Associate Professor of Sociology Hui Zheng of Ohio State University. They are set to present their findings at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA). The researchers wanted to see what effect job satisfaction has on physical and mental health over time.

For their research, the scientists used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79) which is run by the Ohio State Center for Human Resource Research on behalf of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The NLSY79 study started in 1979 and has followed 10,000 Americans since they were between the ages of 14 and 22. In particular, the researchers in the current study looked at job satisfaction over time for 6,432 participants when they were aged 25 to 39, rated between 1 for greatly disliking their jobs and 4 for loving their jobs, then looked at a variety of health factors when the participants were in their 40s.

Based on job satisfaction scores, the researchers divided the study participants into four groups: those who consistently had low job satisfaction; those who had consistently high job satisfaction; those who initially had high job satisfaction that sank over time; and those who started with low job satisfaction but became more satisfied as their career progressed. The low job satisfaction group included participants who disliked or greatly disliked their jobs and those who somewhat liked their jobs.

The researchers discovered that just under half of the study participants, at 45 percent, consistently hated their jobs. Another 23 percent started out liking their jobs but grew to hate them early in their career. On the other end of things, about 17 percent of the participants started out with low satisfaction that trended higher over time, and about 15 percent of people were happy with their jobs throughout their career, consistently with job satisfaction scores near 4.

The 15 percent of participants who where consistently happy with their jobs in their late 20s and their 30s became the control group, and the researchers compared everyone else to these happy workers when it came to physical and mental health. When they compared the different groups, the researchers discovered that job satisfaction in early career was linked to mental health later in life.

Perhaps not surprisingly, those who had low job satisfaction early in their careers reported higher levels of depression, worry, and sleep problems in their 40s. These unhappy workers were also more 46 percent more likely than their peers to be diagnosed with an emotional problem and were more likely to score low on a test for overall mental health.

In the group of workers who started out happy but became less satisfied throughout their early career, the participants were more likely than the consistently happy workers to have excessive worry and trouble sleeping along with lower overall mental health score. However, they did not seem to be more depressed or be more likely to have an emotional problem. In comparison, those who became progressively more satisfied with their jobs did not see any more health problems than the consistently-happy workers.

The effect of job satisfaction on physical health was not as large as the impact on mental health. Those who were consistently not satisfied with their jobs did report more problems like frequent colds, back pain, and poorer overall health, but they did not seem to have diminished physical function or any major diseases like diabetes and cancer. The participants who became more satisfied with their jobs over time did not have any significant differences to the consistently-satisfied group for physical health.

The research seems to show that hating a job in their late 20s and 30s can continue to impact mental health, and to a certain extent physical health, as a worker enters their 40s. The study authors say that although they only studied participants into their 40s, there could be even greater health effects down the road. Those suffering from poor mental health in their 40s may be more prone to cardiovascular problems or other health issues as they age. Not only that, the study ended before the recent major recession. Facing unemployment, many more workers may have had to take jobs they hate, and this poor job satisfaction could have impacted their mental and physical health. Young people entering the workforce during the recession likely faced lower job satisfaction than the previous generation, as they settled for jobs that were not in their chosen career, and that could have an impact in later decades.

Mental illness can be costly, with a price tag of $57.5 billion in 2006 in the U.S. alone for the estimated 45.1 million people diagnosed with a mental disorder. Previous research has linked mental illness with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, cancer, and other chronic diseases.

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