Two generations of worklessness

Picture credit: Phil Campbell

Young people whose fathers were unemployed when they were growing up are more likely to be out of work themselves, a new study has found.

And while the unemployed offspring of working fathers tended to suffer psychological effects from being out of work, those who had unemployed fathers were happier.

In a paper presented at this week’s Understanding Society Research Conference, Wouter Zwysen finds being out of work is associated with lower life satisfaction – but only for the children of working fathers.

Unemployed young adults whose fathers were also out of work are actually happier when not working.

But those whose fathers were in work when they were 14 are on average happier when working than when out of work, the research showed.

The finding might indicate those with unemployed fathers tended to have less desirable jobs, and therefore to enjoy work less.

Or it might suggest their attitudes to work are affected by their fathers’ worklessness and that they are relatively happy to be unemployed.

The research used data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study involving 2,500 respondents aged between 16 and 25. Among those respondents, 342 had fathers who did not work when they were 14 and a further 630 had fathers who worked in low-paid jobs.

Those whose fathers were unemployed were 15 per cent more likely to be unemployed than those whose fathers worked in low-paid jobs. Those offspring of workless fathers who did have jobs worked on average three hours less per month than those whose fathers had low-paid jobs, and their incomes were between £150-200 lower.


The research looked at whether poorer mental health or less well-developed social networks might have held back the offspring of the unemployed – but found they did not.

But when it looked at how satisfied respondents were with their lives, it found those with unemployed fathers were happiest when they did not work. Those with working fathers were more satisfied when they were employed.

“Children whose fathers did not work suffer less negative effects of being out of work and may actually be less satisfied while working. They may therefore remain out of work longer, possibly while looking for a job through a longer and more detailed search process, as they might experience less pressure to take the first job available.”

Research carried out at ISER using data from the Understanding Society study showed the under-25s were on average happier when unemployed than when in full-time work, while older adults tended to be happier when employed.

Leave a Reply