Although the recession "officially" ended more than four years ago, many Americans continue to face an insecure job market and struggle to find a healthy work-life balance. Nineteen percent of American adults - almost one in five - reported in a 2013 Gallup poll that there have been times in the last 12 months when they didn't have enough money to buy food; 10% said they either currently had or are currently being treated for depression.
Jack Lam, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology and 2014-2015 Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship recipient, is working to understand the health consequences of job uncertainty and juggling career and family responsibilities.
Lam's interests in the course of life, work and organizations, and health and well-being intersect in his dissertation, "Hedging Risk in the Face of Precarious Employment: Job Insecurity, Coping Behavior, and Health in Early Adulthood." He explores how employees' coping behaviors – going back to school, living with a roommate, or lowering career expectations – may help relieve the stress of economic insecurity.
After graduating with a B.A. in political science from the University of Southern California, the California native moved to Minnesota. Lam was drawn to the U's program in life course studies; during his first year at the U, he worked on an interdisciplinary study on the connections between work, family and health, which influenced his current research. He is interested in how people's work and life environments shift over time.
"I love the richness of life course research, as well as the power it has to establish linkages between earlier and later life," he says.
Since 2009, Lam has been a research assistant for The Flexible Work and Well-Being Study, funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lam aims to show how changes in the work environment – such as allowing workers more freedom over when and where they do their work – can improve employees' health and well-being, as well as benefit their families and employers.
"I am continually impressed by Jack's creativity and perseverance in the face of the inevitable twists and turns of research," says his adviser, Dr. Phyllis Moen. "His commitment to producing high-quality scientific research is evident."
Lam hopes that his research will inform public and organizational policies on how to structure employment to improve workers' well-being – findings that could have benefits for workers and organizations alike.