For the study, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, the research team compared life outcomes of 11,680 men to the job expectations they held as high school seniors in the early 1980s.
The findings showed that men who expected to work in jobs that did not require a college degree but later faced declines in the job market were nearly three times as likely to suffer early deaths by suicide and drug poisoning as men who sought work that required a bachelor's degree.
"Work plays a major role in how individuals experience their communities, derive a sense of purpose, and thus develop a sense of psychological well-being," said study lead author Chandra Muller from the University of Texas at Austin in the US.
"It's possible that occupational expectations developed in adolescence serve as a benchmark for perceptions of adult success and, when unmet, pose a risk of self-injury," Muller added.
In the study, the research team investigated the relationship between the two trends using data from the High School and Beyond cohort, a nationally representative sample of 11,680 men who were surveyed throughout high school in the early 1980s, again in 1992 (when they were 28-30 years old), and again in 2015.
Between 1992 and 2015, less than six per cent of the participants had died.
The researchers compared suicide and drug poisoning deaths, which are forms of self-injury, to other causes of early adult deaths, such as heart attacks and cancer.
They found that the men most likely to suffer death by suicide or drug poisoning were those who as adolescents expected to earn enough to support a family through some type of semi-skilled labour that later declined when they reached adulthood, such as manufacturing, mechanics and carpentry.
The study showed that neither educational attainment nor the actual job worked increased risk for death by self-injury.
Furthermore, unmet occupational expectations were not associated with a higher risk of early death by natural or other causes. This comparison further strengthened their conclusions about a link between a decline of working-class jobs and deaths of despair.
"Our findings suggest closed pathways to sustaining working-class jobs may contribute to men's increasing rates of suicide and drug-poisoning mortality," Muller said.