Physically demanding jobs linked to shorter working lives and more sick leave

Link Between Physically Demanding Jobs and Shorter Working Lives

A comprehensive long-term study of Danish workers across various occupations reveals that physically demanding jobs are associated with shorter working lives, increased sick leave, and higher unemployment rates compared to less physically demanding roles. These findings have important implications for European governments planning to raise the statutory retirement age. As life expectancy increases and birth rates decline, people are expected to work longer, but this approach fails to consider the impact of aging on muscle strength and the discrepancy between life expectancy and healthy life expectancy, particularly among disadvantaged populations.

Study Methodology and Findings of Physically Demanding Jobs:

To assess the impact of physically demanding jobs on work capacity, researchers examined the working life expectancy of 1.6 million Danish workers aged 18 to 65, employed as of November 2013. The level of physical demand required for each job was evaluated using the job exposure matrix (JEM), which encompassed 317 different occupations. JEM scores were categorized as low (below 16), moderate (16-28), and high (28+). Occupations with high physical demands included construction, manual labor (e.g., carpentry, masonry, painting, plumbing), cleaning, and manufacturing industries.

Data on sick leave, unemployment, and disability pension payments were collected for each participant over the subsequent four years until 2017. The final analysis focused on workers aged 30, 40, and 50. The results demonstrated that a higher proportion of men than women had physically demanding jobs based on JEM scores. On average, men in physically demanding roles were nearly three years younger than their counterparts in physically undemanding jobs, while women were approximately ten months older.

Impact of Physically Demanding Jobs:

For both men and women, physically demanding jobs were strongly associated with shorter working life expectancy, increased sick leave, and higher unemployment rates compared to physically undemanding jobs. At the age of 30, men in physically demanding roles were expected to work almost 32 years, while those in physically undemanding jobs had an expectancy of nearly 34 years. Among women, the figures were slightly over 29.5 years for physically demanding jobs and almost 33 years for physically undemanding jobs.

Furthermore, the analysis revealed that a 30-year-old woman in a physically demanding jobs would have three fewer years of working life, 11 additional months of sick leave, and 16 extra months of unemployment compared to a woman in a physically undemanding job. The corresponding figures for men were two years of reduced working life, along with 12 and 8 additional months of sick leave and unemployment, respectively.

While lifestyle factors and chronic conditions were not considered in this analysis, the study highlights the significant risk posed by high physical work demands. Physically demanding jobs are associated with a shortened working life, increased sick leave, and higher unemployment rates. These findings emphasize the urgent need to address the challenges related to physical work demands, particularly in the context of increasing the statutory retirement age. Mitigating the impact of physically demanding occupations can contribute to improved work-life balance and overall well-being for workers in physically demanding roles.

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