Recent studies have demonstrated a link in young populations between unemployment and ill health. The purpose of this study is to correlate mortality with employment status in two cohorts of young Australian males, aged 17-25 years, from 1984 to 1988. Two youth cohorts consisting of an initially unemployed sample (n = 1424 males) and a population sample (n = 4573 males), were surveyed annually throughout the study period. Those lost to follow-up during the survey period were matched with death registries across Australia. Employment status was determined from weekly diaries and death certificates and was designated as: employed or student; unemployed; not in the work force (excluding students). Conditional logistic regression, using age- and cohort- matched cases (deaths) and controls (alive), was used to estimate the odds ratio (OR) of dying with regard to employment status, taking into account potential confounders such as ethnicity, aboriginality, educational attainment, pre-existing health problems, socio-economic status of parents, and other factors. Twenty three male survey respondents were positively matched to death registry records. Compared to those employed or students (referent group), significantly elevated ORs were found to be associated with neither being in the workforce nor a student for all cause, external cause, and external cause mortality other than suicide. Odds ratios were adjusted for age, survey cohort, ethnicity, pre-existing physical and mental health status, education level, and socio-economic status of parent(s). A statistically significant increasing linear trend in odds ratios of male mortality for most cause groups was found across the employment categories, from those employed or student (lowest ORs), through those unemployed, to those not in the workforce (highest ORs). SUicide was higher, but not statistically significantly, in those unemployed or not in the workforce. Suicide also was associated, though not significantly, with the respondent not living with their parents when they were 14 years of age. No association was found between mortality and past unemployment experience, as measured by length of time spent unemployed, or the number of spells of unemployment experienced during the survey. The results of this study underscore the elevated risk to survival in young males as a consequence of being neither employed nor a student.