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Job Happiness In 20s-30s May Affect Health Later In Life

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Not everyone may love their jobs, but a new study puts a whole new perspective on the link between job satisfaction and overall health.

There have been prior studies linking jobs to physical and mental health. But this research from the Ohio State University suggests that young adults in their 20s and 30s who are generally not happy in their occupations may experience the brunt of it health-wise when they reach their 40s, CBS News reports.

The researchers examined data from a larger study completed by the state of Ohio for the US Bureau of Labor Statistics that began in 1979, including information on job satisfaction.

Jonathan Dirlam, lead author on the study and post-graduate student on sociology, said,

We thought this would be great to use in a study on job satisfaction and its health effects over the life course. Very few if any studies have done this.

The team followed the career paths of participants in the study from the time they were 25 until they turned 39. They sorted the participants into four groups: consistently lower job satisfaction, consistently high job satisfaction, those who started with low satisfaction but increased, those who started with high satisfaction but decreased over time.

Some 45% of participants reported feeling less than ‘very satisfied’ on the question of job satisfaction. Some 23% of participants saw a downward trend as the years passed, and 17% reported a rise in job satisfaction as they got older. Only 15% of people said they were consistently happy at work from their 20s onwards.

Dirlam stated that those with lower job satisfaction in their 20s and 30s had “worse mental health compared to those with high job satisfaction levels.” The people who started with high job satisfaction that decreased, “also had worse health.” These participants were more likely to report sleep problems, depression, and extreme worry, and had lower scores on overall mental health tests, the researchers said.

The results of the study suggest a cumulative effect in job satisfaction that is reflected in a person’s health as he or she gets older.

Dirlam said it’s important to note the distinction in the study’s language, saying that the group with the lowest level of satisfaction did not say they hated their jobs, but rated “lower than ‘very satisfied.'” In short, the lowest group still had ‘satisfied’ levels on average.

“The majority of people are either ‘very satisfied’ or ‘satisfied’ with their job. But we find that even the subtle distinction between ‘very satisfied’ and ‘satisfied’ has significant effects on your health. I would say our study’s main findings are you’re likely to have worse health if you don’t love your job rather than if you hate your job,” Dirlam said.

The study did not cover the period of recession that began in December 2007 and continued for around two years. Dirlam did say that job satisfaction levels in the US have been decreasing since the 1980s, primarily due to job instability.

Dirlam concludes by suggesting that while income is a consideration for fresh graduates, “It may be more beneficial for overall life satisfaction to take a job with slightly less pay if that job will give you higher job satisfaction.” After all, people spend more than half their lives at work, so it would be good to find at least some happiness in it.

The study was presented this week at the yearly American Sociological Association meeting.

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