Engagement in meaningful activities during unemployment and subjective well-being: Contributions from a Portuguese study




In an unstable and unpredictable labor market, older workers are in a particularly disadvantaged situation. Indeed, from the moment an individual becomes unemployed, age is the most powerful individual attribute affecting how long it will take to find a new job, and for many older individuals, job loss in fact leads to their permanent exclusion from the labor market. Nevertheless, older unemployed individuals are an understudied population in unemployment research. In the literature, unemployment has consistently been associated with reduced well-being, and research has shown that an important determinant of well-being during unemployment is an individual’s involvement in personally meaningful activities. Yet, studies on the psychological mechanisms underlying the positive association between activity and well-being during unemployment seem to be relatively scarce. This study investigates to what extent engagement in meaningful activities by older unemployed people is associated with their well-being and if this relationship is mediated by the perceived quality of the psychosocial environment – operationalized as the perceived access to the latent benefits of employment and the environmental “vitamins” included, respectively, in the latent deprivation model and the vitamin model. The sample comprised 185 Portuguese unemployed individuals aged 40+, who were asked to fill in self-report questionnaires in job- and training centers located in the Porto metropolitan area. Ordinary least squares path analyses were calculated to investigate the mediational model. Results show that the activities in which participants were most engaged were passive activities at home, followed by family-related activities and domestic chores. Furthermore, results suggest that the engagement in certain activities during unemployment – social and cultural activities and work-related activities – is beneficial for well-being through the perception of greater social contacts and the perception of greater contribution to society and integration in the community. These findings may be useful for both policy-making and practitioners aiming to turn unemployment into a less psychologically harmful experience.



Unemployment, meaningful activities, latent deprivation model, vitamin model, wellbeing.


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