The worse your #firstsevenjobs are, the poorer your health may be decades down the road, suggests new preliminary research presented Monday in Seattle at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

The researchers pored through data taken from a long-running survey that first polled over 10,000 young men and women aged 14 to 22 in 1979 and interviewed them again every year until 1994. Alongside taking measurements of their mental and physical health, the survey also asked participants to rate how satisfied they were with their jobs on a scale of one to five. Looking in on the participants as they approached their mid-twenties, the researchers saw that those who reported feeling consistently dissatisfied with their jobs early on in their career were more likely to feel depressed, anxious, and have trouble sleeping by the time they turned 40 than those who were consistently happy with their jobs.

"We found that there is a cumulative effect of job satisfaction on health that appears as early as your 40s," said lead author Jonathan Dirlam, a doctoral student in sociology at The Ohio State University (OSU), in a statement.

While having crummy early jobs was more associated with poorer mental rather than physical health, the authors speculated the effect on the body may simply take longer to manifest. "The higher levels of mental health problems for those with low job satisfaction may be a precursor to future physical problems," co-author Dr. Hui Zheng, an associate sociology professor at OSU, said. "Increased anxiety and depression could lead to cardiovascular or other health problems that won't show up until they are older."

If there is a silver lining to be found, it’s that people who felt unhappy with their jobs at first but quickly found jobs they enjoyed weren’t worse off for the early turmoil. People who experienced higher job satisfaction that then steadily declined also weren’t as negatively impacted; they reported more trouble sleeping and poorer overall mental health but weren’t more likely to become diagnosed with depression or other emotional problems.

In total, 45 percent of people felt consistently low job satisfaction compared to 23 percent of those whose initially high job satisfaction declined over time. Only a lucky 15 percent of people consistently enjoyed their jobs throughout the years. Compared to the latter group, the odds of being diagnosed with emotional problems after age 40 was 46 percent higher in people with consistently low job satisfaction.

Though other research has mapped out the number of ways that an ill-fitting job can wreak havoc on our health, the current study is one of the first to examine how the trajectory of our careers can have long-lasting health consequences. Given the United States is still recovering from the economic fallout of the Great Recession, and with many younger people finding it harder to get their careers started off on the right foot than the generation before them, the researchers believe their findings are especially relevant right now.

“If recent trends of declining job satisfaction continue, understanding the cumulative effects of job satisfaction on health may become crucial for policymakers when considering all the potential costs of wage stagnation and eroding job security,” they concluded.

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