Psychosocial well-being, work situation and unemployment

Women report lower psychosocial well-being than men do, while psychosocial well-being is more clearly connected to the work situation for men than for women. These are the findings of a study examining the relationship between self-reported psychosocial well-being of five groups in various work situations.

In the past 10-15 years, flexibility in the labour market has increased, resulting in a greater number of people in temporary work. Fixed-term contracts accounted for about 10% of the Swedish workforce in the early 1990s, rising to approximately 16% by the end of the decade. Some people are hired on a day-to-day basis for temporary positions, often under poor working conditions. Hence, one possible consequence of increased flexibility in the job market, and particularly for some people in temporary work, could be an increased sense of job insecurity.

Classification of work situations

A survey called ‘Liv och Hälsa 2000’ (Life and Health) was conducted by Statistics Sweden in 2000, on behalf of public health units in five county councils. Its findings were analysed in a 2005 study by Starrin and Janson.

Survey respondents between the ages of 18-64 years were classified into groups based on self-ratings concerning:

  • how stable their work situation is (secure or insecure work situation);
  • to what extent they can influence their work (empowered or disempowered work);
  • what possibilities they have of advancing in the job (developing or non-developing).

Based on these self-ratings, five groups were identified, as outlined in the following table.

Classification of respondents and their work situations (%)
Classification of respondents and their work situations (%)
Types of respondents Female respondents Male respondents Total respondents
‘Secure-empowered’ with developing jobs 27 43 35
‘Secure-disempowered’ with non-developing jobs 38 24 31
‘Insecure-empowered’ with developing jobs 6 9 8
‘Insecure-disempowered’ with non-developing jobs 17 11 14
Unemployed 11 13 12

Source: Starrin and Janson, 2005

In general, it can be said that men are more likely to have ‘secure-empowered’ and developing jobs, while women are more likely to have ‘secure-disempowered’ and non-developing jobs.

Work situations and psychosocial well-being

The respondents’ psychosocial well-being was measured by asking questions concerning anxiety, depression and psychiatric ill-health.

The results (see figures below) show that there is a relationship between psychosocial well-being and the five types of work situations. The results also indicate differences by sex, as well as differences based on employment status.

Work situation and psychosocial well-being for women
Work situation and psychosocial well-being for men

Gender-related differences

Women report a lower psychosocial well-being, at approximately 46%, compared with 29% of men reporting such a condition. This could be interpreted as signifying a stronger relationship between psychosocial well-being, work situation and unemployment among women than there is among men. However, when factors such as age, education, household type and financial stress are included, the degree of psychosocial well-being is, in fact, more clearly connected to the work situation for men than for women. The work situation refers to elements such as job security, possibilities for promotion, degree of influence, and unemployment. For men in the group ‘insecure-disempowered’ with non-developing jobs, the ratio increase is up to 1.5 times, while the ratio for woman in the same group is stable or decreases slightly.

The authors of the study believe that the reason why women report, to a greater extent, that they suffer from various psychosocial illnesses is linked to women’s roles and tasks outside of work. Usually, women still have a greater responsibility for household tasks than men do. This could imply that women are more exposed to additional pressures outside of work, thus resulting in a feeling of low psychosocial well-being.

Employment status

The risk of suffering from psychosocial illness is, in some groups, just as high whether the person is employed or unemployed. In the group, ‘insecure-disempowered’ with non-developing jobs, the risk is particularly high at 75% of women and 60% of men, compared with 66% of unemployed women and 57% of unemployed men. This is line with previous studies (Burchell, 1994; Platt, 1999) indicating that being in an insecure job situation, having lack of influence and lack of possibilities for promotion increases the risk of psychosocial illness.


Burchell, B., ‘Effects of labour market position, job insecurity and unemployment on psychosocial health’ in Gaille, D., March, C. and Vogler, C. (ed.), Social change and experiences of unemployment , Oxford University Press, 1994.

Holmlund, B. and Storrie, D., ‘Temporary work in turbulent times: The Swedish experience’, Working Paper Series from Uppsala University, Department of Economics, 2001.

Platt, S., Pavis, S. and Akram, G., Changing labour market conditions and health . A systematic literature review (1993-1998) , European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Dublin, 1999.

Starrin, B. and Janson, S., ‘Typer av arbete, arbetslöshet och psykosocial ohälsa’, Arbetsmarknad and Arbetsliv , Vol. 11, No. 1, Spring 2005, National Institute for Working Life, pp. 33-43.

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