The two economists calculated that the life expectancy of a man laid off at age 40 by a plant closing, mass layoff or other downsizing would be up to 1.5 years shorter. Von Wachter summed up this observation like this: "We were convincingly able to show that if you lose your job, you die earlier."
The stress associated with losing a job is often described as one of the most trying life events, along with divorce and death of a loved one. But it isn't the only job-related worry that can kill you. The persistent fear of losing a job, which is particularly prevalent in the current economic climate, can produce similar stress and ill health, according to sociologist Sarah A. Burgard, a research assistant professor at the University of Michigan's Population Studies Center. Burgard published a study of the "waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop" phenomenon in the September 2009 issue of the journal Social Science & Medicine. The health impact of grappling with ambiguity about one's future, the inability to take action and the lack of institutionalized support, might be greater than the impact of losing a job in the same phase of one's career, she found.
It's not easy to recover after losing your job, but health experts say the effects of such a tribulation can be mitigated by smart behavior. One of the most important things someone struggling with a job loss can do is invest in their own well-being.
"They have to take good care of themselves -- mind, body and spirit," Jim Stringham, a psychologist and clinical social worker based in Salt Lake City, told ABC News. "Exercise, eat right, feed your soul with activities, whether that's going to church or being around friends and family."
In May of this year, a study of British civil servants found that those working 10 to 11 hours a day (compared with the traditional seven-hour British workday), were as much as 60 percent more likely to suffer heart disease or die prematurely than those working regular hours.
The study, published in the European Heart Journal, tracked the development of heart disease, heart attacks or chest pain among 6,000 men and women ages 39 to 61 over the course of about 11 years. All were free of heart disease when the study began in the early 1990s.
Lead author Marianna Virtanen, of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki and University College, London, suggested that the longer-toiling workers might have undetected high blood pressure, might get insufficient sleep or might suffer from stress. Those putting in longer hours tended to be men, younger workers and those with higher-level jobs.
Given the current economic climate, it may be hard for many U.S. workers to say "no thanks" to overtime for the sake of their health. Still, it may be in your best interest to explore ways to exercise more control over your schedule, such as flex time. According to a review published in February in The Cochrane Library, workers who had more control over their schedules and work days saw improvements in both physical and mental health.
Occupational health hazards, sometimes caused by exposures to dangers not visible to the naked eye, can shorten lives, research shows.