Unemployment and its impact on well-being: a field study of the South Korean economic crisis, 1997-2001

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Lee, Eunjoo

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Based on the in-depth interviews conducted in South Korea, this dissertation examined the reactions to unemployment, experiences of unemployment, and coping strategies and social support of thirty unemployed men who lost their jobs during the economic crisis between 1997 and 2001. While, in general, unemployment is detrimental to individuals’ well-being, this study found that the outcome varied by socioeconomic status of the unemployed, which affected levels of social support and coping strategies among the unemployed. A main finding of this study requires us to re-examine consequences of poverty and material hardship. The poverty, in relation to the degree of available resources and social support, affected detrimental outcomes on well- viii being among the unemployed. The poor tended to be more often unemployed, less often married, and received less support from their family members and friends. Since individuals living in poverty have a great amount of vulnerability to any type of life event in general, job losses among them tend to destroy alreadyweakened resources and social networks as well as familial ties. The negative consequences of unemployment, such as family disruption and emotional and physical health problems, caused by material hardship were great among lowerclass individuals and families. It was also apparent that middle-class job losers having higher levels of adaptabilities and resources to deal with the negative impacts of job losses, had relatively fewer cases of family disruption and social avoidance, compared to their lower-class counterparts. Not only the social class, but also reasons for unemployment were highly related to outcomes of unemployment on well-being. Those who experienced business failure were more likely to have family disruption, extreme material hardships, homelessness, broken relationships, and lower levels of social support. At the same time layoffs experienced by lower-class individuals were associated with very detrimental health outcomes and behavioral changes. These individuals engaged in high consumption of alcohol and cigarettes, which affects negative health outcomes.