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Goldsmith, Arthur H.; Veum, Jonathan R.; & Darity, William A., Jr. (1997). Unemployment, Joblessness, Psychological Well-Being, and Self-Esteem: Theory and Evidence. Journal of Socio-Economics, 26(2), 133-158.


Social psychologists Erikson (1959), Jahoda (1979, 1981, 1982) and Seligman (1975) believe that exposure to events such as joblessness are capable of impairing an individual's psychological well-being. Psychological well-being is a multidimensional concept. Therefore, the impact of unemployment on mental health is likely to be manifest in many forms, including denigration of self-worth or self-esteem.
The primary purpose of this study is to investigate the relationship between joblessness and its component parts, unemployment and dropping out of the labor force, on self-esteem using data drawn from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY). The NLSY is well suited for such an investigation since it contains detailed information on the personal characteristics of individuals in the sample, as well as their labor force experiences and measures of self-esteem.
Two additional issues will be addressed. First, we examine the psychological counterpart of Ellwood's (1982) hypothesis that joblessness may scar an individual. Second, we shed new light on the debate between Clark and Summers (1979) and Flinn and Heckman (1982, 1983) over whether being out of the labor force (OLF) and being unemployed should be thought of as distinct states.
We find that joblessness damages self-esteem for female youths; however, the damage is akin to a blemish. Surprisingly, prior labor force experiences generally fail to influence perceptions of self-worth on the part of young men. However, we do find that for both young men and women who in the past spent time out of the labor force, the greater the duration of their exposure to this form of joblessness, the lower their level of self-esteem. We also offer psychological evidence on the relative emotional wellbeing of the unemployed and labor force drop outs that largely supports the position of Clark and Summers that these conditions are essentially indistinguishable.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Journal of Socio-Economics


Goldsmith, Arthur H.
Veum, Jonathan R.
Darity, William A., Jr.