Women with long work hours—averaging 60-hour workweeks over the span of three decades—triple the risk for diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and heart trouble.
“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 at the Ohio State University College of Public Health and the lead author of the study.
Dembe remarked that previous research showed that women who have long work hours have additional stressors because they often take on the majority of familial responsibilities.
It is salient to note that men in the study, who have the same type of long work hours, were not affected to the same degree as women.
The study calculated 32-year work histories, from 1978 to 2009 for 7,492 respondents. Each full-time work week was calculated for each employee. Analyses tested the association between average hours worked per week and the incidence of heart disease, arthritis depression, diabetes, COPD, non-skin cancer, asthma, and hypertension.
The study adjusted for age, gender, race, education, family income, number of years worked, smoking status, and occupation.
Most Participants Reported Long Work Hours
Work hours broke down in the following ways:
- A minority of full-time workers averaged 40 hours or fewer per week
- Fifty-six percent worked an average of 41 to 50 hours
- Thirteen percent worked an average of 51 to 60 hours
- Three percent averaged more than 60 hours
The results astonished Dembe. An analysis revealed a significant relationship between long work hours and heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and diabetes in women.
Men who worked long work hours had a higher incidence of arthritis, but none of the other chronic diseases from which women suffered.
Dembe told Fortune magazine he was “so, so surprised by the real gender difference.”
What Can We Conclude?
The study points toward a correlation between the increase in chronic diseases and long work hours. Longer hours can obviously reduce a person’s life expectancy, increase health care costs, and degrade quality of life.
The benefit of this study may spur serious self-reflection for women to take stock of the potential dangers of intense career lifestyles. It may also encourage workplaces to take a look at or revisit the benefits of work-life balance and flexible scheduling.
But what about the questions that remained unanswered? If men really have a lower risk of chronic diseases from long work hours, why? And what does this mean for home responsibilities for families where both men and women work many hours?
And the study only zoned-in on early onset diseases, what about health conditions later in life?
It is obvious we need more research. In the meantime, double-down on customary stress-reduction activities and lifestyles.
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