People living in areas of England with long-term low employment rates face a greater risk of premature death and poor health, according to new research led by Executive Director of IHRR Prof Sarah Curtis at Durham University that was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.  The study was co-authored by Dr Mylène Riva a former IHRR researcher.

The study, based on data from 200,000 citizens in England, looked at how employment trends are related to mortality and illness.  It examined employment rates in different parts of England from 1981 to 2008.  It found that people under the age of 75 living in parts of the country with persistent unemployment rates have a 20 percent higher risk of premature death than those living with better long-term employment rates.

The research analysed information from the Office for National Statistics Longitudinal Study (ONSLS) for 207,959 citizens in England, accounting for a range of individual factors, such as age, sex and mobility.  The researchers compared populations in groups of areas, according to local levels of employment.  They found that long-term limiting illness, such as arthritis, asthma or back problems, is up to 70 percent more common in areas with low employment compared to areas with the highest employment rates.

Here are two maps that illustrate the employment rates at the Local Authority District level between 1981 and 2008.

Group H (maroon/dark red) are areas of low employment had persistently low levels of employment, showing the local labour market had been depressed over the long term.  People from these areas were compared with those living in Group A (dark green), where employment levels have been persistently high.  Group C (dark blue) are areas that have improved over time from initially low levels.  People from these improving areas had better health than those living in areas where employment remained low.  Authors of the study suggest that there may be health benefits to making investments to boost local employment.

Areas in green indicate higher employment rates, while areas in red have the lowest employment.

‘Employment rates affect local conditions that are important for the health of everyone in an area, not only workers who may be in or out of work.  It is important to sustain efforts to create and support permanent jobs in areas with persistently low employment rates, not least because this is important for the health of the population’, said Prof Sarah Curtis.

In order to increase the resilience of communities with high rates of low employment regional policies that focus on employment initiatives are key, but there is also the much more deep-seated issue of inequality between different areas of England that needs to be addressed.  It is important to look at the long-term impacts of policies that ‘draw employment away from an area or withdraw resources from areas of need’.

Yet in order to eradicate health inequalities that result from high employment rates changes would need to be significant.  Within the current volatile economic climate in Europe it is important to keep these long-term risks to human populations in perspective in order to develop ways to mitigate them, but also to develop ways to enhance resilience already present in economically disadvantaged areas, which is the subject of this study on economically deprived areas that demonstrate ‘health resilience’.

References and Further Reading

Riva M and Curtis SC. Long-term local area employment rates as predictors of individual mortality and morbidity: a prospective study in England, spanning more than two decades. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health

Cairns JM, Curtis SC and Bambra C. Defying deprivation: a cross-sectional analysis of area level health resilience in England. Health & Place

Coalfield communities, public health and resilience. IHRR Blog

Research on health of coalfield communities points to regeneration and resilience. IHRR Blog

Riva M, & Curtis SE (2012). Long-term local area employment rates as predictors of individual mortality and morbidity: a prospective study in England, spanning more than two decades. Journal of epidemiology and community health PMID: 22473585