Warning to Women Who Work Long Hours
You know it takes a toll on your health. What will you do about it?
The study, however, did not address the potential differences between mandatory overtime and discretionary overtime.
Work weeks that averaged 60 hours or more over three decades appear to triple the risk of diabetes, cancer, heart trouble, and arthritis for women, according to new research from The Ohio State University.
The risk begins to climb when women put in more than 40 hours and takes a decidedly bad turn above 50 hours, researchers found.
“Women — especially women who have to juggle multiple roles — feel the effects of intensive work experiences, and that can set the table for a variety of illnesses and disability,” said Allard Dembe, professor of health services management and policy and lead author of the study, published online this week in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
The researchers analyzed the relationship between serious disease and hours worked over a 32-year period.
This study used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, administered by Ohio State’s Center for Human Resource Research and sponsored by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which includes interviews with more than 12,000 Americans born between 1957 and 1964. Nearly 7,500 people were part of the survey.
The analysis found a clear and strong relationship between long hours and heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and diabetes.
A minority of the full-time workers in the study put in 40 hours or fewer per week. Fifty-six percent worked an average of 41 to 50 hours, 13 percent worked an average of 51-60 hours, and 3 percent averaged more than 60 hours.
The results among female workers:They were striking. The analysis found a clear and strong relationship between long hours and heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and diabetes.
Men who worked long hours had a higher incidence of arthritis but none of the other chronic diseases. Men who worked moderately long hours (41 to 50 hours weekly) had lower risk of heart disease, lung disease, and depression than those who worked 40 hours or fewer.
“People don’t think that much about how their early work experiences affect them down the road,” Dembe said. “Women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are setting themselves up for problems later in life.”
He cautioned employers and government regulators to be aware of the risks, especially to women who are required to regularly toil beyond a 40-hour work week. Companies benefit in terms of quality of work and medical costs when their workers are healthier.
"The early onset and identification of chronic diseases may not only reduce individuals' life expectancy and quality of life, but also increase health care costs in the long term," Dembe and study co-author Xiaoxi Yao wrote in the paper.
It did not address the potential differences between mandatory overtime and discretionary overtime.
In terms of whether women must work long hours or choose to — that choice "could make a difference," Dembe said. "You might still be working hard, but the fact that it's your choice might help you stay healthier."