New IPPR analysis shows younger workers in the UK’s flexible labour market are more likely to experience poorer mental health and wellbeing

Today’s (27 July) new report, "Flexibility for who? Millennials and mental health in the modern labour market" from IPPR, the progressive policy think tank, and Business in the Community, presents new analysis which shows younger workers (born since 1982) in part-time and temporary work – or who are underemployed and/or overqualified - are more likely to experience poorer mental health and wellbeing, compared to younger workers in more permanent and secure work.

In July 2017, the government-commissioned Taylor Review set out the importance of ensuring more people in the UK can access ‘good work’. This new IPPR analysis sheds light on the importance of good work in relation to mental health and wellbeing.

The analysis shows that younger workers in temporary jobs are 29% more likely to experience mental health problems, compared to those in permanent jobs (22% compared to 17%). It also finds that 1 in 5 younger graduates who are in jobs for which they are overqualified report being anxious or depressed (22%) – compared to 16% of graduates in professional/managerial jobs.

The report shows how, over the past 25 years, there has been growth in the proportion of jobs in the UK which are not permanent and/or full time (despite renewed growth in full-time work since 2012). It also finds that, compared to previous generations of younger workers, millennials are marginally more likely to be in atypical and/or insecure forms of work.

  • 1 in 4 younger workers are in part-time work (26% in 2014, compared to 24% in 2004)
  • 1 in 11 younger workers are in temporary work (9% in 2014, compared to 9% in 2004)
  • 1 in 11 younger workers are self-employed (9% in 2014, compared to 7% in 2004)
  • 13% of younger workers are graduates working in non-professional / managerial jobs – almost double the rate compared to 2004 (7%)
  • 1 in 5 younger workers aged 16-24 are underemployed (19%) – more than double the rate among workers aged 25 and above


The report’s other key findings include:

  • Younger workers in part-time jobs are 43% more likely to experience mental health problems compared to those in full-time jobs (20% compared to 14%).
  • Younger workers in part-time jobs are also 33% more likely than those in full-time jobs to fall within the bottom 10% of the English adult population according to mental wellbeing (aged 16 and above).
  • Younger workers in part-time jobs are 7 percentage points less likely than those in full-time jobs to report being satisfied with their life, even when controlling for variables including household income and prior life satisfaction.
  • Younger workers on zero-hours contracts are 13 percentage points more likely than those in other forms of work to experience mental health problems, even when controlling for variables including household income and mental health outcomes during adolescence.
  • Younger workers who believe themselves to have more than a 50% chance of losing their job are twice as likely to experience mental health problems compared to those with no chance of losing their job (24% compared to 12%).
  • The proportion of employees aged 21-25 who were in low-paid work increased by 82% between 1990 and 2015.
  • Employees aged 18-29 are twice as likely as those aged 50-59 to describe their current mental health as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ (16% compared to 8%)
  • 21% of younger workers on low-pay experience mental health problems, compared to 16 per cent of those who are not on low pay

IPPR Senior Research Fellow, Craig Thorley said:

“Good work can help people to lead mentally healthy lives. But for a significant number of young people, their experiences of the modern world of work would appear to be putting their mental health and wellbeing at greater risk. This is particularly true of those who cannot access permanent or secure work, or who are graduates in non-graduate roles.

"Government and employers should work together to promote better quality jobs which maximise the benefits of flexibility, while ensuring that employees feel in control of their own working lives.  Without finding ways to support younger workers to progress in their careers, a significant number risk becoming trapped in a cycle of low-pay, with few prospects and low wellbeing."

Business in the Community Wellbeing Director, Louise Aston said:

“There’s a compelling business and moral case for employers to support the mental health of all their people by embedding wellbeing, which includes good job design, into organisational culture. Responsible employers need to have a special focus on promoting and protecting the mental health of younger colleagues.  All employees need to feel it’s safe to disclose a mental health issue at work with the reassurance that they will be supported and not judged.”

This new IPPR report focuses on ‘younger workers’ (millennials and centennials) who, unless stated otherwise, are defined here as being born during or after 1982.

Underemployment is defined here as where an individual is willing to work more hours than current employment provides.

Overqualified is defined here as being a graduate in a non-professional/managerial job.

An individual is described here as being on ‘low pay’ if they fall below the 25th percentile in the wage distribution. ‘Not on low pay’ describes any individual who falls on or above the 25th percentile in the wage distribution.

IPPR aims to influence policy in the present and reinvent progressive politics in the future, and is dedicated to the better country that Britain can be through progressive policy and politics. With nearly 60 staff across four offices throughout the UK, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence.

Our independent research is wide ranging, it covers the economy, work, skills, transport, democracy, the environment, education, energy, migration and healthcare among many other areas. ippr.org

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