PhD Defence: Job insecurity and mental health


On 29 August 2022 Peter Douwe van der Meer will defend his dissertation on Job insecurity and mental health, at Utrecht University. The full title of his dissertation is: Job insecurity and mental health. Essays on the effect of job insecurity on mental health and the moderating effect of religiousness and psychological factors.


What is the mental health effect of job insecurity? Previous studies show a negative association between the two. Yet is job insecurity really a cause of reduced mental health? Or do personal characteristics also play a role? Optimism, for instance, could make us perceive less job insecurity and makes for better mental health.

This research into the effects of job insecurity on mental health uses a research method that controls for such personal characteristics and purely looks at how changes in job insecurity are related to changes in mental health. With the same method we subsequently investigate if all employees experience a similar decline in mental health following job insecurity, or whether some groups suffer more from job insecurity than others. We use primarily data from Dutch employees for the years 2008-2018.

Using this rarely used research method we find that job insecurity has on average a relatively small effect on mental health; much smaller than the relationship suggested with conventional research methods. This indicates that the association found in previous studies is largely driven by differences in personal characteristics. The rather small effect that we found on average masks large differences between groups; some groups clearly have more difficulty than others in dealing with job insecurity.

Men vs women

Only for men a decline in mental health due to job insecurity is found, not for women. This appears to have little to do with male breadwinnership, more likely with social norms about paid work.

Higher versus lower education

In addition, negative effects on mental health are predominantly found in men with intermediate levels of education and, to a lesser extent, in men with higher levels of education. Negative effects of perceived job insecurity on mental health are found among men with permanent contracts only.

Higher versus lower income

Furthermore, negative effects of job insecurity increase with income. In this research the detrimental mental health effect of job insecurity is largest for men (and in this case also women) with a net monthly income of at least €3,000.

Religious vs unbeliever

In this research religious employees in general, and Protestants among them in particular, despite being at risk due to a higher work ethic, appear to be shielded from the adverse mental health effects of job insecurity. An unwavering belief in the existence of God as well as belief in an afterlife both insulate from detrimental mental health effects from job insecurity. These personal beliefs only appear to insulate workers who frequently attend religious gatherings.

Big5 personality traits

For the research into the influence of the well-known Big5 personality traits (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism) on the mental health effect of job insecurity, Dutch, German and Australian data are used. Contrary to expectations, (virtually) no evidence is found in Dutch and German data that the Big5 personality traits influence the mental health effect of job insecurity. Australian data suggest that extraversion dampens the mental health effect of job insecurity, and that openness to experience and neuroticism amplify the mental health effect of job insecurity.

Higher or lower self-efficacy

Previous research showed that, with few exceptions, self-efficacy, the belief people have about their own ability to successfully influence the environment, is beneficial in a variety of challenging circumstances. A striking finding in this thesis is that self-efficacy - only for women - appears to be a risk factor when faced with job insecurity: higher initial self-efficacy amplifies the negative mental health effect of job insecurity in women.


With this research we can be more specific about the effect of job insecurity on mental health. The effect appears to be smaller than the one reported with previous research methods. Although we have been able to rule out a number of things, the effect we found should not be interpreted as causal; we cannot rule out the possibility that changes in mental health are the cause of changes in perceived job insecurity. Our research provides further insight into groups that appear to be more vulnerable to the challenges of job insecurity than others. In the workplace, employers and employee organizations can take this into account when there is a threat of job insecurity.

Start date and time
End date and time
Academiegebouw, Domplein 29, Utrecht
PhD candidate
Peter Douwe van der Meer
Job insecurity and mental health. Essays on the effect of job insecurity on mental health and the moderating effect of religiousness and psychological factors.
PhD supervisor(s)
prof. dr. J. Plantenga

Not necessary

More information
Full text via Utrecht University Repository