Honey, I Got Fired! A Longitudinal Dyadic Analysis of the Effect of Unemployment on Life Satisfaction in Couples

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Abstract

Previous research on unemployment and life satisfaction has focused on the effects of unemployment on individuals but neglected the effects on their partners. In the present study, we used dyadic multilevel models to analyze longitudinal data from 2,973 couples selected from a German representative panel study to examine the effects of unemployment on life satisfaction in couples over several years. We found that unemployment decreases life satisfaction in both members of the couple, but the effect is more pronounced for those who become unemployed (actors) than for the other couple members (partners). In both couple members, the reaction is attenuated if they share the same labor status after the job loss: Actors experienced a greater drop in life satisfaction if their partners were employed than if they were unemployed at the time of the job loss, and partners reacted negatively to the job loss only if they were employed or inactive in the workforce, but not if they were unemployed themselves. With respect to couple-level moderator variables, we found that both actors and partners reacted more negatively to unemployment if they had children. The reaction was also more negative in male actors than in female actors, but there was no difference between male and female partners. In sum, these findings indicate that changes in life satisfaction can be caused by major life events experienced by significant others.

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