Chronic diseases raise risk of leaving workforce
By Institute for Work and HealthFeatures Clinical Patient Care
Despite a growing effort on the part of policy-makers and employers to keep older workers in the labour market, health problems remain a big reason many of them leave their jobs.
According to a new study by the Institute for Work and Health (IWH),
people with heart disease, arthritis and other types of chronic
conditions associated with older age are less likely to be working than
those without these conditions. For example, people with heart disease
are three times more likely not to be working than those without the
What’s more, people with more than one chronic
condition are even more likely to be not working. For those with both
heart disease and diabetes, in particular, the risk of not being in the
labour market is at least eight times as high as it is for those with
"Some of these conditions in combination have a
synergistic effect," says IWH scientist Dr. Peter Smith, lead
researcher for the study.
The study’s results imply that policies
set up to try to keep older workers in the workplace should address the
barriers faced by people with chronic conditions, says Smith.
seen governments doing things such as repealing mandatory retirement
and pushing up the retirement age to keep people in the labour market,"
he says. "But there hasn’t been a lot of thinking about how to create
work environments that enable people with chronic conditions to stay in
the labour market."
A lot of people do want to stay at work for
both social and financial reasons, he adds. "So we need to think about
workplaces and work practices, and how they need to change to keep these
people in the labour market for as long as they can."
published in the July 2013 issue of Ageing and Society, draws on three
cycles of Statistics Canada’s Canadian Community Heath Survey between
2000 and 2005. It has a total sample of 129,000 people who were either
working or not working due to health reasons.
The study examines
seven chronic conditions that are most prevalent among older adults.
These are hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, back
problems, migraines and thyroid conditions. It finds each of these has
an impact on workforce participation—but to varying extents.
the seven, heart disease has the strongest link with not being in the
workforce, and thyroid conditions the weakest. Having heart disease puts
people at about three times the risk of not working when compared with
those without the condition.
The risk of not working for those
with diabetes, arthritis or back pain is about twice as high as it is
for people who don’t have these conditions. However, as arthritis is the
most common of the conditions, it is linked to the greatest number of
people not being at work.
The researchers also looked at the
effects of these conditions when in pairs. People with heart disease and
diabetes are over eight times more likely to not be in the labour
market compared to people without either condition. People with
arthritis and heart disease are seven times more likely to be out of the
labour market than people with neither condition, and people with both
arthritis and back pain are five times more likely than people without
these conditions to be out of the labour market.
One of the
surprise findings for Smith was the fact that the impact of health
conditions did not differ for people with different levels of education.
expected the effects of chronic conditions to be greater among people
with less education who, one might assume, would be more likely to be in
working environments with higher physical demands and lower levels of
control," says Smith. He adds that further study would be needed to
probe for the reasons why those differences were not seen.
Also needed are studies on programs to keep people with chronic conditions at work to understand if they are effective, he adds.
haven’t been a whole lot of intervention studies in this area," says
Smith. "For example, simple things like giving workers more autonomy and
flexibility through the work day might be effective at allowing people
with certain conditions to stay at work."
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