New Study Finds Higher Risk Of Miscarriage Or Stillbirth After Job Loss


Researchers have discovered a correlation between the loss of employment by a pregnant woman or her partner and an elevated risk of miscarriage or stillbirth.

Published in the premier journal in reproductive medicine worldwide, Human Reproduction, the study reveals a twofold increase in the likelihood of pregnancy ending in miscarriage or stillbirth following a job loss.

Led by Dr. Selin Köksal from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex in the UK, the researchers emphasize that their findings underscore an association between job loss and an augmented probability of miscarriage or stillbirth. It is important to note that the study does not establish a causal relationship between losing a job and pregnancy loss.

The study draws on data from the “Understanding Society” survey conducted among 40,000 households in the UK between 2009 and 2022. The dataset encompasses 8142 pregnancies with complete information on conception dates and pregnancy outcomes.

Among these pregnancies, 11.6% resulted in miscarriage (947), potentially an underestimate due to the early stages of pregnancy loss going undetected. There were 38 stillbirths, constituting 0.5% of conceptions, aligning with the official UK statistics on stillbirths.

Of the 136 women affected by their own or their partner’s job loss, 32 (23.5%) experienced miscarriage, and one (0.7%) had a stillbirth. In contrast, among 8006 women unaffected by job loss, 915 (10.4%) experienced miscarriage, and 37 (0.5%) had a stillbirth.

Dr. Alessandro Di Nallo, co-author of the paper and affiliated with the Dondena Centre for Research on Social Dynamics and Public Policy at Bocconi University, Milan, Italy, commented that the associations might be linked to stress, reduced access to prenatal care, or lifestyle changes.

“My previous research indicates that job loss reduces the likelihood of having children. This might be because people postpone their plans to have children under conditions of economic uncertainty, but it could also be due to other reasons. Stress results in a physiological response, releasing hormones that are known to increase the risk of miscarriage or premature delivery. The reduction in income following a job loss could restrict access and compliance with prenatal care, so that at-risk pregnancies are discovered late or are undetected. In addition, the emotional discomfort of job loss could prompt unhealthy behaviours, such as alcohol consumption, smoking or unhealthy eating.”

As for Dr Köksal, she said: “Our findings are important as we uncover a potential socioeconomic, hence preventable, factor behind pregnancy losses that can be addressed through effective policymaking.”

“It is important to raise awareness of women’s legal rights and protection in the workplace during pregnancy, so that women can feel safer and more empowered to communicate their pregnancy with their employer. Moreover, stress during pregnancy can have negative effects on both maternal and foetal health. So, provision of psychological support during pregnancy through the public health system is important regardless of women’s and their partner’s job status,” said Dr. Köksal.

“In the UK, pregnancy is a period that is protected fairly well by labour market legislation. However, there is no job loss protection for the partners of pregnant women who are dismissed without notice. Policymakers, for instance, could consider extending job protection to workers whose partners are pregnant as our results shows that a partner’s job stability is equally as important as the woman’s job stability for the course of pregnancy. Additionally, it makes sense to increase economic support for individuals – and their partners – who lose their jobs because the lack of economic support is shown to be one of the main causes of stress and personal distress, which can eventually increase the risk of pregnancy loss,” she added.

The study has certain limitations. Firstly, the reporting of pregnancy and job loss relied on self-disclosure, introducing the possibility of recall bias and a tendency to align with socially desirable responses.

In addition, other variables may be associated with both job loss and pregnancy loss. Lastly, it remains unknown whether the observed findings apply to diverse socioeconomic groups.

“The UK welfare state has an anti-poverty focus and unemployment benefits are less generous than in the rest of Europe – on average only 34% of the last job’s salary for six months,” said Dr. Köksal.

“Therefore, it would be interesting to see if more generous welfare regimes are better at reducing the psychosocial hardship of job loss,” she concluded.