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'Gig Economy' Job Woes May Lead to Problem Drinking Later
  • Posted April 10, 2024

'Gig Economy' Job Woes May Lead to Problem Drinking Later

The “gig economy” could be setting up many young adults for drinking problems later in life, a new study warns.

People who take poorly paid temp jobs as freelancers or independent contractors are 43% more likely to develop an alcohol-related illness than those with full-time permanent employment, researchers found.

Those illnesses include mental and behavioral disorders caused by alcohol, alcoholic liver disease and alcohol toxicity, according to the report published April 9 in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

“Young adulthood is a particularly sensitive period in life concerning the initiation and formation of health-related behaviors, such as alcohol use,” concluded the research team led by Emelie Thern, an assistant professor of occupational medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

“Subsequently, young adults in precarious employment might use alcohol as a coping strategy for stress and form a habit of consuming larger quantities of alcohol compared with individuals in [standard employment] of the same age,” the researchers said in a journal news release.

For the study, researchers evaluated data on nearly 340,000 participants born between 1973 and 1976 who were taking part in a long-term Swedish work and health research project.

Participants reported their employment status three years after they graduated from the highest level of education they attained, whether it be high school or college. Three years was “deemed to be the most suitable time point to determine the end of the school-to-work transition,” researchers wrote.

Researchers categorized each person's employment status as precarious “gig” employment, long-term unemployment, substandard employment, and standard full-time employment.

Substandard employment offers lower pay, longer hours, fewer benefits and less job security than full-time employment, researchers said.

About 39% of the young adults had standard employment, 32% had substandard employment and nearly 13% had precarious employment.

The team then checked health records and found that about 2% of the participants had been treated at least once for alcohol-related illness over a 28-year time span. Two-thirds of those with alcohol-related illness were men.

People with precarious “gig” jobs initially appeared to be almost twice as likely as those with full-time work to have an alcohol-related illness, and the long-term unemployed were nearly three times more likely.

But after researchers accounted for other potentially influential factors, including mental health and alcohol-related health problems, the risk for “gig” workers dropped to about 43% greater than those with full-time jobs.

The long-term unemployed were nearly twice as likely to have an alcohol-related illness after taking those factors into account, and those with substandard employment were 15% more likely to do so.

The results indicate that any sort of full-time job, even if it's substandard, might be better than no job or a “gig” job when it comes to a person's health, researchers concluded.

“To escape unemployment, several young people take the first job offered, which is generally more precarious, with less security, lower wages and longer hours,” the researchers said.

“The results of the current study suggest that this decision appears to be marginally more beneficial compared with remaining unemployed, which adds to the discussion of whether any job is really better than no job at all,” they added.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about alcohol use and health.

SOURCE: BMJ, news release, April 9, 2024

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