Abstract This study investigated some hypotheses concerning the determinants of attributions for unemployment and the psychological consequences of unemployment in a randomly selected sample of 204 male school leavers. There was weak evidence for the hypothesis that the unemployed make more external attributions for unemployment, but none showing them to make less internal attributions. There was weak evidence that political party preference was related to internal and external attributions, and stronger evidence that a general tendency to see life as determined by chance was linked to external attributions. The unemployed were found to be more likely to support violent political action, to support the Labour Party, and to believe chance controlled their lives. Finally, external attributions were seen as more important than internal ones by all respondents. The results suggest that other factors, e.g. the mass media, may be influential in determining the nature of attributions and this is interpreted in the context of Moscovici's social representation theory.