The earlier you hit your stride in your career, the less likely will you have emotional and mental health problems, new research reveals. People who are less than happy with their jobs, as they start out in their 20s and 30s, are more likely to experience depression once they are in their 40s.

The nationwide study, conducted by Jonathan Dirlam and Hui Zheng of Ohio State University, shows a relationship between job satisfaction early on in a person's career and his or her mental health.

"There is a cumulative effect of job satisfaction on health that appears as early as your 40s," says Dirlam, who is taking his Ph.D. in sociology at Ohio State and the lead author of the study.

Job Satisfaction Affects Mental Health

Dirlam and Zheng studied a national longitudinal survey taken from 1979 with a sample of more than 6,400 Americans. The researchers looked closely at the job satisfaction of individuals who were between 25 and 39 years old. The study subjects reported multiple health indicators by the time they turned 40.

The respondents were divided into four groups: those whose satisfaction started high but began to decrease (23 percent of respondents); those whose satisfaction started low but began to increase (17 percent); those who had consistently low satisfaction (45 percent) and those who had consistently high satisfaction (15 percent).

Study subjects who were consistently happy with their career were used as the baseline in studying the health of the three other groups.

Those who were consistently unhappy with their jobs reported sleep problems, emotional health problems and depression, and were said to worry excessively. They also had lower test scores for overall mental health compared to those who were consistently happy.

Those who initially had high job satisfaction but saw their happiness spiral also registered lower scores for overall mental health and reported sleep problems and excessive worry. But they did not show any tendencies toward depression or the diagnosis of emotional health problems. Those whose low job satisfaction improved later on did not report any comparative health problems.

Too Late To Shift Careers?

If a person is initially unhappy with work, the study shows, it isn't too late yet to shift gears and find a job that does make one happy. Improvements in one's outlook about work can still prevent the onslaught of emotional and mental health issues that usually crop up around a person's midlife.

"You don't have to be near the end of your career to see the health impact of job satisfaction, particularly on your mental health," notes Zheng, who is an associate professor of sociology at Ohio State.

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