FRIDAY, April 8 (HealthDay News) -- Unemployment can be deadly, especially for men, researchers have found.

In the new study, investigators analyzed 40 years of data from 20 million people in 15 countries and found that being unemployed increases a person's risk of premature death by 63 percent. The quality of a nation's health-care system did not affect this level of risk, the study authors noted.

They also found that unemployment boosts men's risk of premature death much more than it does women's risk (78 percent vs. 37 percent) and that the risk of death is particularly high for people younger than 50.

"We suspect that even today, not having a job is more stressful for men than for women," Eran Shor, a sociology professor at McGill University in Montreal, said in a university news release.

"When a man loses his job, it still often means that the family will become poorer and suffer in various ways, which in turn can have a huge impact on a man's health by leading to both increased smoking, drinking or eating, and by reducing the availability of healthy nutrition and health-care services," he explained.

Shor and colleagues said their finding of a causal relationship between unemployment and increased risk of death is groundbreaking.

"Until now, one of the big questions in the literature has been about whether pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes or heart problems, or behaviors such as smoking, drinking or drug use, lead to both unemployment and a greater risk of death," Shor said.

"What's interesting about our work is that we found that pre-existing health conditions had no effect, suggesting that the unemployment-mortality relationship is quite likely a causal one. This probably has to do with unemployment causing stress and negatively affecting one's socioeconomic status, which in turn leads to poorer health and higher mortality rates," he stated.

The findings, published in the March issue of the journal Social Science & Medicine, suggest the need for public health initiatives that target unemployed people.

More information

The Canadian Mental Health Association offers tips for coping with unemployment.