Labor, Social Capital, and Health; an Empirical Analysis

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Julian LaFarge

Labor Force and Employment

06/07/2012

Employment, Social Capital, and Health:

An Empirical Analysis

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The United States labor force has been undergoing massive changes in over the past 30 or so years. More people are working as the population continues to rise, but even more so people with more diverse backgrounds and demographics are entering the work force or clamoring for jobs, as how the economy is currently structured seems to predict that individuals who would like to enter the labor force won’t be able to. Sociologists White and Cunneen contend that “structural unemployment and underemployment, privatization of state services and withdrawal of income support” (White and Cunneen) inherently exist in neo-liberal ideologies, making this disparity between the employed and the unemployed seemingly unavoidable. With this increase in size and diversity of the labor force and the accompanying restrictions to entry, the effects of employment merit analysis. One could possibly make the argument that of employment's causal relationships, perhaps none are more important than employment's affect on one's health. Indeed, “occupational conditions have consequences for physical health outcomes” (Wickrama Lorenz 363). Further, “A central theoretical proposition of sociology states that social structural positions have dramatic effects on life chances” (Link Lennon 1351).

However, one is left wondering how is this possible, that is, how exactly is it that whether or not one is employed is able to influence one's health? One possible mechanism through which employment influences health is the relatively new sociological concept of social capital. Robert Putnam writes, “Mounting evidence suggests that people whose lives are rich in social capital cope better with traumas and fight illness more effectively” (289). His 2000 book Bowling Alone is the most cited work amongst social capital literature, according to citation analysis by Moore, Haines, Hawe, and Shiell speaking to social capital's relatively late emergence as a concept meriting analysis on the sociological scene (731). Furthermore, social capital's influence on health has been explored in various other research projects, such as Sara Ferlander's "The Importance of Different Forms of Social Capital for Health” where she concludes “high levels of trust in society can facilitate faster and wider diffusion of information which may in turn promote healthier behaviours and control uhealthy ones” (123). While employment's effect on health and social capital's effect on health have both been documented, an effort to link the three in a dependent → mediator → independent causal relationship. Noting this lack in the literature, this study uses data from the 2010 General Social Survey to examine the relationship between social capital and health and the mechanisms through which employment and social capital influence health, hypothesizing that employment affects health through the creation and promotion of social capital in the workplace.

Quantitative Employment and Health Analysis
In order to assess the effects of employment status on health, data was taken from the 2010 General Social Survey (GSS), in order to provide the most contemporary, and thusly accurate, picture of the relationship between employment and health.

The independent variable, our predictor, is employment status. The 2010 GSS contains a non-dichotomous “Labor Force” variable which classifies status as, “Part-Time”, “Full-Time”, “Temporarily Not Working”, “Unemployed”, “Retired”, “Student”, and “Homemaker”. The variable was then recoded into a dichotomous, discreet variables, with the part-timers, full-timers, and those who were temporarily not working classified as “employed” and everyone else falling into the “unemployed” category. The United Stated Bureau of...
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