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Employment status and psychological distress in a population-based cross-sectional study in Sweden: the impact of migration

07 Apr 2017


Unemployment and temporary employment are known to impact psychological health. However, the extent to which the effect is altered by migration-related and sociodemographic determinants is less clear. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether the association between employment status and psychological distress differs between immigrants and Swedish-born and to what extent, the association is modified by gender and reason for immigration.


Cross-sectional survey study.

Participants and setting

Data from public health surveys undertaken in 2002, 2006 and 2010 from random samples of Stockholm County residents, Sweden, were used to analyse a weighted sample of 51 118 individuals aged 18–64 (43 444 Swedish-born, 4055 non-refugees, 3619 refugees). According to their activity in the labour market, the participants were categorised into permanently/self-employed, temporarily employed and unemployed.

Outcomes measures

Associations between self-reported employment and psychological distress measured by a 12-item version of the General Health Questionnaire were explored across individuals with different migration status and reasons for immigration using logistic regression and pairwise comparisons. The analyses were stratified by gender and adjusted for age, socioeconomic characteristics and survey year.


Unemployment was associated with elevated likelihood of psychological distress across the study population, regardless of migration status and gender. Fully adjusted models revealed nearly a 3-fold higher odds of distress in unemployed Swedish-born (OR 3.05, 95% CI 2.66 to 3.51), non-refugees (OR 3.51, 95% CI 2.44 to 5.05) and refugees (OR 2.91, 95% CI 2.20 to 3.85) when compared with permanently/self-employed. Temporary employment also increased the likelihood of distress, particularly among refugees and Swedish-born.


The effect of unemployment on increased likelihood of poor psychological well-being overcomes gender-specific and migration-specific differences and is equally pronounced for Swedish-born, non-refugees and refugees. Exclusion from the labour market appears to be a major determinant of psychological health inequalities in contemporary Sweden.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in BMJ Open