Losing job 'worse than break-up of marriage'

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People suffer more unhappiness and stress if they lose their job than if their marriage or long-term relationship breaks down, researchers have discovered.

People suffer more unhappiness and stress if they lose their job than if their marriage or long-term relationship breaks down, researchers have discovered.

In a survey of 6,000 Britons conducted over eight years, the respondents increasingly valued and defined themselves by their occupation rather than by their family and social life.

Employment specialists said that a combination of long working hours, low maternity benefits and a lack of paid paternity leave was denying people opportunities to bond with their families.

The unwillingness of employers to allow staff to puttheir personal lives before their work has also contributed to happiness being more closely linked to work than to personal relationships, the researchers discovered.

"We know that work is highly important for people for economic and social reasons, and this latest research shows it is more stressful for people to lose their jobs than their husband or wife," said Andrew Oswald, Professor of Economics at the University of Warwick, who led the research.

Professor Oswald presented his findings yesterday in a seminar, entitled "Love, Money, Work - What Makes Us Happy?" at the Industrial Society in London. "People need control in their lives, and being made redundant is a highly stressful and out-of-control period for most people," he reported. Two in five marriages now failed in Britain, and the high rate meant it was more rational for people seeking happiness to invest their time and energy in their jobs than in their relationships.

Richard Reeves, director of futures at the Industrial Society, said an unspoken edict in Britain was that working hard was bad and marriage, love and families were good.

"Many people have satisfying jobs but very unsatisfactory relationships. People are getting more critical about the value of their personal relationships, and the fact that they are relying on their work for a large part of their happiness is not necessarily a bad thing," he said. "Work is more important for many people."

The research was based on data collected from 6,000 people who were interviewed seven times between 1991 and 1998. They also filled in questionnaires on their psychological health, which contained questions on: recent loss of sleep because of worry; lack of concentration; loss of confidence; feelings of unhappiness or depression; and feelings of being constantly under strain.

The mental well-being of interviewees who had lost their job was 50 per cent lower than that of people who had lost their partners. The most stressful event for people was being widowed, when their mental well-being dropped by three times more than if their marriage broke down.

Experiencing a large fall in income did not have a big impact on people's happiness levels, suggesting it is the non-monetary benefits of work that defined people's happiness rather than the weekly or monthly pay-cheque. Getting back into work after a period of unemployment was the single biggest event that enhanced people's happiness, the researchers found.