Unemployment, self-esteem, and depression: A social-comparison theory approach

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Sheeran, Paschal ; Abrams, Dominic ; Orbell, Sheina (1995)

A social comparison theory approach to the relation between unemployment, self-esteem, and depression was tested using a cross-sectional questionnaire design (N = 88). Personal attributes were used as the domain of comparison, and four types of comparisons - intrapersonal, interpersonal, intragroup, and intergroup - were operationalized. Employment status affected the salience of intrapersonal comparisons. Comparisons with the past self were highly predictive of psychological distress among unemployed respondents, whereas comparisons with the ideal self predicted distress among the employed. Individual-level and group-level social comparisons had different associations with the dependent measures for unemployed respondents. Intrapersonal and interpersonal comparisons were significantly related to depression and self-esteem scores, whereas intragroup and intergroup comparisons were related only to self-esteem. Social comparisons with unemployed people were related to reduced depression levels among employed respondents. Results also showed that unemployed people had more negative social comparison scores relative to their employed counterparts. Results are discussed in terms of recent developments in social comparison theory. Suggestions for future research are outlined.
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