Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 30–42 | Cite as

Young Adult Unemployment and Later Depression and Anxiety: Does Childhood Neighborhood Matter?

  • Jungeun Olivia LeeEmail author
  • Tiffany M. Jones
  • Yoewon Yoon
  • Daniel A. Hackman
  • Joan P. Yoo
  • Rick Kosterman
Empirical Research


Young adulthood represents a developmental period with disproportionately heightened risk of losing a job. Young adult unemployment has been linked to increased mental health problems, at least in the short term. However, their possible long-term impacts, often referred as “scarring effects,” have been understudied, possibly underestimating the magnitude of mental health burden that young adult unemployment generates. This longitudinal study examined whether duration of unemployment during young adulthood is associated with later mental health disorders, after accounting for mental and behavioral health problems in childhood. Furthermore, the current study investigated whether childhood neighborhood characteristics affect this association and if so, in what specific functional ways. Data were drawn from a longitudinal study of developmental outcomes in a community sample in Seattle. Data collection began in 1985 when study participants were elementary students and involved yearly assessments in childhood and adolescence (ages 10–16) and then biennial or triennial assessments (ages 18–39; N = 677 at age 39; 47% European American, 26% African American, 22% Asian American, and 5% Native American; 49% female). The current study findings suggest that duration of unemployment across young adulthood increased mental health problems at age 39, regardless of gender. Childhood neighborhood characteristics, particularly their positive aspect, exerted independent impacts on adult mental health problems beyond unemployment experiences across young adulthood. The current findings indicate a needed shift in service profiles for unemployed young adults—a comprehensive approach that not only facilitates reemployment but also addresses mental health needs to help them to cope with job loss. Further, the present study findings suggest that childhood neighborhoods, particularly positive features such as positive neighborhood involvement, may represent concrete and malleable prevention targets that can curb mental health problems early in life.


Mental health Unemployment Scarring effects Life course Young adulthood Perceived neighborhood characteristics in childhood 



We would like to extend our gratitude to SSDP study participants for their continued contribution to the study.

Authors’ contributions

J.O.L. originated the study, performed the statistical analyses, guided additional data analyses, led the writing of the article, and coordinated drafting of the manuscript among co-authors; T.M.J. contributed to data preparation for analyses, drafted the method and result sections, and created tables; Y.Y. contributed to literature search; D.A.H. provided expertise in the conceptualization of neighborhood impacts; J.P.Y. contextualized findings in different cultural contexts; R.K. contributed to the conceptualization of the study, the data collection, and the interpretation of findings. In addition, all authors have been involved in drafting the manuscript and revising it critically for important intellectual content. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


This study was supported by grants R01DA033956, 1R01DA024411, and 1R01DA009679 from National Institute on Drug Abuse. The content of this paper is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agency. The funding agency played no role in the study design; in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit this article for publication.

Data sharing and declaration

This manuscript’s data will not be deposited.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. All study procedures were approved by the Human Subjects Review Committee of the University of Washington.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all participants included in the study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social WorkUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLas AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Social Development Research Group, School of Social WorkUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  3. 3.Department of Social Welfare, College of Social SciencesSeoul National UniversitySeoulSouth Korea

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