Recent developments in the social epidemiological literature indicate that health inequalities between the employed and the unemployed are widening in many advanced capitalist countries. At present, we know relatively little about why these inequalities are worsening. Drawing on nationally-representative data from the largest health survey in Canada, we explored this question by analyzing changes in self-rated health inequalities between employed and unemployed Canadians from 2000 to 2014. Using a regression-based method that decomposes a given inequality into its component sources, we investigated the extent to which risk factors that account for unemployment-related health inequalities at a single point in time can also explain the extent and direction of change in these unemployment-related health inequalities over time. Our results indicate that relative and absolute health inequalities between employed and unemployed Canadians widened over the study period. Between 2000 and 2014, the prevalence of poor self-rated health among unemployed Canadians increased from 10.8% to 14.6%, while rates among employed Canadians were stable at around 6%. Our findings suggest that the demographic, socioeconomic, and proximal risk factors that are routinely used to explain unemployment-related health inequalities may not be as powerful for explaining how and why these inequalities change over time. In the case of unemployment-related health inequalities in Canada, these risk factors explain neither the increasing prevalence of poor self-rated health among the unemployed nor the growing gap between the unemployed and their employed counterparts. We provide several possible explanations for these puzzling findings. We conclude by suggesting that widening health inequalities may be driven by macrosocial trends (e.g. widening income inequality and declining social safety nets) which have changed the meaning and context of unemployment, as well as its associated risk factors, in ways that are not easy to capture using routinely available survey data.
ASJC Scopus subject areas