The welfare system protects children when a parent loses his or her job
24 February 2023
When a parent loses his or her job it can lead to him or her being affected by poorer health. However, this does not seem to affect the children's health, according to a new study from Uppsala University. “Even though there is a loss of income, we have unemployment insurance, schools, childcare and free healthcare - a welfare system that actually works and protects these children,” says Eva Mörk who is one of the authors of the study.
A person who loses their job because their workplace closes down is not only at risk of suffering financially, but there is also evidence of negative effects on health. So how are children affected when a parent becomes unemployed? This was the starting point for a study conducted at Uppsala University.
“We started by looking at the parents and could see a similar pattern to that seen in previous studies. Job loss had long-term and negative effects on their income and health. But thankfully it seems that the negative effects only spill over to their children to minor degree,” says Eva Mörk, Professor in Economics.
When they examined the children's health data they could see that it remained unchanged following a parent losing his or her job.
“Even though there is a loss of income, we have unemployment insurance, schools, childcare and free healthcare - a welfare system that actually works and seems to protect these children.”
However, Eva Mörk points out that the study looks at parents that have had steady employment but have suddenly lost their jobs. The study is therefore not about parents affected by long-term unemployment.
An unemployed mother may lead to lower grades
In the same study it could be seen that children to a mother who has become unemployed run the risk of lower grades when they leave compulsory school in year nine. An unemployed father did not result in a similar negative effect. This finding is interesting, especially in relation to the situation seen in other countries. There, a small positive improvement in grades can be seen instead. This is probably due to the fact that the mother is at home and can help with homework.
“We think that one explanation is that in Sweden we have a norm that both women and men should work. It is not the case that women choose to be housewives when they lose their jobs, but rather that they return to the labour market to the same extent as men,” says Eva Mörk and continues:
“We think rather that a mother's unemployment can be a significant negative stress for the family. We also see that the rate of divorce tends to increase when a mother loses her job which is not the case when a father loses his job. We can also see that with mothers, there is an increase in hospitalisation for alcohol related conditions. So we think that stress may play an important role.
Despite the fact that we live in a fairly equal society, women still shoulder a larger responsibility for childcare and household duties. So a shock for a mother could possibly have a greater negative impact on the children.
- If the father loses his job then maybe the mother can manage to protect the children from the negative effects of this, whereas the fathers are unable to fill this role.”
Studying what shocks mean for families
The study that Eva Mörk discusses in this article is titled ‘Consequences of parental job loss on the family environment and on human capital formation – Evidence from workplace closures’.
The same study forms the basis for the popular-scientific report newly published by SNS (Swedish Centre for Business and Policy Studies) "SNS Research Brief 93. How are children affected when a parent loses his or her job?" (text in swedish)
The authors of both the study and report are Eva Mörk, Anna Sjögren and Helena Svaleryd.
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