Immunological Effects of Unemployment


Over the past decade evidence has accumulated for a relation between environmental, psychological, and immunological functions. We address whether unemployment leads to decreased immunological functioning.

The following indices of immune function were used. CD3, CD4, CD8, CD20, CD4/CD8 ratio, monocytes, and granulocytes. 45 randomly selected redundant and employed workers of two meat freezing plants in Auckland participated. Subjects were allocated to three groups: 15 meat factory workers who were yet to gain employment two years after compulsory redundancy; 15 meat factory workers who had gained employment after compulsory redundancy; and 15 employed subjects in a similar meat freezing occupation in another factory and who had not been made redundant (control group).

No significant differences were obtained between any of the groups with respect to cell percentages. However, planned comparison between the redundant/unemployed group and the control group for CD4/CD8 ratio revealed a significant difference. Planned comparisons between the control group and the

redundant/working group or between the redundant/unemployed group for the same variable did not reach significance. 16% of the redundant/unemployed group showed some clinical evidence of irnmunocompromise.

There may be reasons other than employment for a group to display compromised immune functioning. Examples are increased caffeine and alcohol intake. However, self-report of intake of these drugs was not significantly different for any of the groups in this study. The clinical significance of CD4/CD8 ratios obtained in this study can be gauged by the finding of similar ratios in AIDS patients and HIV seropositives. Although the latter groups typically have slightly lower ratios than reported for the unemployed group, the fact that despite the small samples employed, differences were statistically significant suggests that this is an important finding. In times of world-wide high unemployment, effects on immune function should be the focus of continued research.

D Marriott, B J Kirkwood, C Stough

Department of Psychology, University of Auckland

Lancet Vol 344 July 23, 1994; 269

4 Replies

  • Deek,

    As a thick oik,is this survey saying that basically the ""side effects"" ,if you will,of unemployment can lead to problems with your immune system??



  • Yeah Bluejam, that’s correct... unemployment can correctly be described as an immune system stressor (immunostressor).

    Unemployment sits alongside other psychology factors like emotionally stressful experiences, such as the death of a loved one, or the end of a relationship, moving house, financial debt, work, court proceedings and trauma, etc. Any of these factors can cause/exacerbate asthma symptoms.

    From an allergist’s perspective; all immune system stressors add up to form what can be best described as the immune system total stress load. If your total stress load is exceeded this may well result in allergy/asthma symptoms. Kind of like, the last straw breaks the camels back so-to-speak. As you know, stress is a very individual thing, some people can cope with immense levels of stress whilst others can only cope with a little bit of stress.

    For those interested in the immunological importance of the Lancet article; it becomes clear that not only do immunosuppressive meds cause acquired immune system dysfunction by altering the CD4/CD8 ratio, but other factors like psychological stress can also alter the CD4/CD8 ratio. One can only speculate on the effect on the immune system if someone takes (long term) immunosuppressive meds and also suffers from psychological stress.

    Take hair,


  • Nice to know that when you are ""not economically viable"",nature gives you a jolly helping hand to make life grand and dandy.

    -quite hair raising!-(sorry,couldnt resist)


  • Oh great my first day having just retired from work so now unemployed just what I needed to know - puts space hat on to ward off infections.


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