Unemployment, Wellbeing and the Power of the Work Ethic: Implications for Social Policy

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Unemployment is associated with a range of health and social problems, such as poor physical health and wellbeing. In response, welfare state research has recently considered the ways in which the harmful effects of unemployment can be ameliorated through social policies. This article argues that such policy suggestions have disregarded the role of the work ethic in shaping the experience of unemployment. In societies that glorify employment as a signifier of identity and status, it is unsurprising that those without employment suffer. Previous research supports this view, showing how subscription to the work ethic is associated with wellbeing amongst unemployed people. Original analysis of the European Values Survey confirms the importance of the work ethic, showing how unemployed people with weaker work ethics have significantly higher life satisfaction than those with stronger work ethics. The article concludes that the most effective way of dealing with the deleterious effects of unemployment is to challenge the centrality of employment in contemporary societies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-228
JournalCritical Social Policy
Issue number2
Early online date25 Jun 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Jun 2018


  • active labour market programmes
  • basic income
  • life satisfaction
  • welfare-to-work
  • worklessness.

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