Study: Health Affects Job Loss

A recent study by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers has found that personal health is the primary factor in determining whether or not single women who enter the job market actually keep their jobs over the long term.

Women with newborn children, the researchers found, were 70 percent more likely to lose their jobs than other mothers. The study also found that preexisting health conditions increased the risk of job loss by 57 percent.

But education was not among the factors that most affected job retention among the study’s participants.

The study’s authors, HSPH faculty members Alison Earle and S. Jody Heymann, used their findings as the basis for political recommendations for reforming welfare and employment policy.

“Poor single mothers trying to meet work responsibilities while simultaneously caring for their own or their children’s health condition face a difficult challenge,” said Earle, an instructor in the Department of Health and Social Behavior in HSPH.


“Earlier studies focused on barriers to obtaining work,” she said. “This study is looking at women who were able to get jobs and why they may have lost them.”

While women in the study once would have received government assistance under Aid for Families with Dependent Children, that program was replaced in 1996 by Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) as part of larger welfare reform that was signed into law that year.

According to Earle, as reform has trimmed welfare rolls and made former welfare recipients dependent on their own income to support themselves and their families, job retention has become more difficult for single women.

Researchers cited “lack of support for working families and a slowing economy” as making it harder for single women to keep their jobs under TANF.

“In the wake of welfare reform, it is critically important that steps are taken to eliminate barriers to succeeding at work for women who have health problems themselves or whose children have health problems,” Earle and Heymann, an associate professor in the health and social behavior department, wrote in the study.

The study also pointed to the types of jobs women leaving welfare often hold to explain their increased vulnerability to job loss. It said that the jobs often lack fringe benefits and are less likely to offer paid leave and schedule flexibility.

According to Earle, strengthening provisions from welfare would address the problems faced by families with health problems.

“A safety net is still needed—cash supports for those who have to put their children first,” Earle said.

Earle and Heymann based their work on data collected by the National Longitudinal Study of Youth, covering 11,406 men and women since 1979. Participants are now between 35 and 43.