New research shows that higher testosterone levels reduce the risk of unemployment and increase the chances of getting a job. The results that appear in the journal Economics & Human Biologysuggest that testosterone levels in men are related to behavioral and cognitive processes that influence labor market transitions.
“We were interested in how biological markers (like testosterone levels) are related to social and economic outcomes,” said study author Peter Eibich, deputy head of the research group on work demography at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research.
“Today, data on such biomarkers are often collected as part of large social science household surveys, such as the UK Household Longitudinal Study, which we used in our research project. However, our understanding of how these biological processes are related to social and economic behavior is currently limited (at least for most available biomarkers).”
“Testosterone is a particularly interesting case – previous research has clearly shown that testosterone levels are related to certain personality traits (e.g. risk aversion) and individual behaviors (e.g. status seeking and dominant behavior). Such personality traits and behaviors used to be associated with a person’s success in the job market,” Eibich said.
“At the same time, the evidence on the health consequences of high or low testosterone levels is somewhat inconclusive. As such, testosterone is an example of a biological process that could affect economic behavior without necessarily being related to health or disability.”
The UK Household Longitudinal Study began in 2009 and collected a wide range of information from around 40,000 households. The study now includes nine waves of data. It is important that the participants were asked about their current employment status in each wave. The nurses collected biomedical information, including testosterone levels, from over 20,000 adult participants approximately five months after completing either wave 2 or wave 3 of the study.
To examine the relationship between testosterone and labor market transitions, Eibich and his colleagues analyzed data from 2,115 men between the ages of 25 and 64 who reported being either employed or unemployed (but not self-employed) during the nurse’s visit.
The researchers found that unemployed men with moderate and high testosterone levels were significantly more likely to report being employed during the following wave compared to unemployed men with low testosterone levels. This was also true after controlling for genetic variation.
“Our results suggest that British men with higher testosterone levels are less likely to become unemployed and less likely to remain unemployed when unemployed,” Eibich told PsyPost. “This is likely due to differences in personality traits and behavior caused by testosterone. For example, we found that men with higher testosterone levels were more confident and reported that they were more likely to use the internet to look for a job.”
But like all research, the new study comes with some limitations.
“An important caveat is that the data used for our research only includes testosterone measured at a single time point,” explained Eibich. “We compensate for this to some extent by using genetic data to isolate variations in testosterone levels that are caused by differences in genetic expression (and are therefore constant over the life course). However, further research using data from multiple measurements of testosterone levels in the same individuals would be helpful in getting a sense of how much a person’s testosterone levels vary over time.”
“It would also be very interesting to see the implications for women,” he added. “Our study only included men because most women’s testosterone levels were undetectable.”
The study “In and out of Employment – Labor Market Transitions and the Role of Testosterone” was authored by Peter Eibich, Ricky Kanabar, Alexander Plum and Julian Schmied.