Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The limitations of employment as a tool for social inclusion

Liana S Leach1*, Peter Butterworth1, Lyndall Strazdins2, Bryan Rodgers3, Dorothy H Broom2 and Sarah C Olesen1

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Mental Health Research, The Australian National University, Canberra, 0200, Australia

2 National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, The Australian National University, Canberra, 0200, Australia

3 Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute, The Australian National University, Canberra, 0200, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:621  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-621

Published: 19 October 2010



One important component of social inclusion is the improvement of well-being through encouraging participation in employment and work life. However, the ways that employment contributes to wellbeing are complex. This study investigates how poor health status might act as a barrier to gaining good quality work, and how good quality work is an important pre-requisite for positive health outcomes.


This study uses data from the PATH Through Life Project, analysing baseline and follow-up data on employment status, psychosocial job quality, and mental and physical health status from 4261 people in the Canberra and Queanbeyan region of south-eastern Australia. Longitudinal analyses conducted across the two time points investigated patterns of change in employment circumstances and associated changes in physical and mental health status.


Those who were unemployed and those in poor quality jobs (characterised by insecurity, low marketability and job strain) were more likely to remain in these circumstances than to move to better working conditions. Poor quality jobs were associated with poorer physical and mental health status than better quality work, with the health of those in the poorest quality jobs comparable to that of the unemployed. For those who were unemployed at baseline, pre-existing health status predicted employment transition. Those respondents who moved from unemployment into poor quality work experienced an increase in depressive symptoms compared to those who moved into good quality work.


This evidence underlines the difficulty of moving from unemployment into good quality work and highlights the need for social inclusion policies to consider people's pre-existing health conditions and promote job quality.