Reported health differences between working and non-working people

A significant number of people in Norway are defined as ‘non-working individuals’. Based on two comprehensive surveys – the Level of Living Survey 2006 and the Labour Force Survey 2006 – the group of non-working individuals was identified and their self-reported health was compared with that of workers. Although differences arise within the non-working group, the occurrence of all reported illnesses was higher for non-working individuals than for workers.

In 2006, almost 25% of the Norwegian population aged between 16 and 66 years was regarded as belonging to the population group of non-working individuals. Reasons for not working were classified into six categories: disability, unemployment, having an old-age or early retirement pension, acting as a homemaker, studying or military service. While students constitute the largest proportion of the non-working group (8.4%), disabled persons and unemployed people represent the second and third largest shares (8.2% and 3% respectively).

Work has previously been shown to be important in a health perspective, as non-working individuals are often found to have poorer health than the working population. Surveys that enable an investigation of the differences in health between working and non-working individuals are therefore especially important for understanding the scale of the problem.

About the surveys

The Level of Living Survey: Working Conditions 2006 (Samordnet levekårsundersøkelse 2006: Arbeidsmiljø (in Norwegian, 3.6Mb PDF)) (NO0711019D) and the Labour Force Survey 2006 – both conducted by Statistics Norway (Statistisk sentralbyrå, SSB) – are public, independent surveys carried out to assess living conditions and labour market statistics. The Level of Living Survey: Working Conditions comprises telephone interviews with almost 10,000 workers, representing a response rate of 67%, and the design of the survey enables parameters like self-reported health to be analysed in more detail. For the analyses, only individuals who had had a previous job exceeding six months, working at least 15 hours a week, were included in the non-working category.

The Labour Force Survey (LFS) is the main source for labour market statistics in Norway, and allows a classification of the population into categories of being employed, unemployed or outside the labour force; the latter group is divided by activities such as unpaid work in the home or studying. The LFS data allow for a consistent and complete distribution of the population according to the different status categories at any time, and cover characteristics such as demographic background, educational level, occupation, sector of activity, working hours, second jobs and underemployment.

Key findings of study

A recent study (Aagestad, 2009) examined the level of several self-reported illnesses and, for all disorders, the incidence was found to be higher among non-working people than workers. However, distinct differences within the non-working group were also found. Disabled persons, for example, differ from the rest of the group by having a significantly higher occurrence of self- reported health problems, especially musculoskeletal disorders. At the same time, both disabled and unemployed individuals report a higher incidence of nervousness, anxiety and restlessness, together with depression, compared with the rest of the non-working group.

The only subgroup of non-working individuals reporting about the same occurrence of health disorders as workers was the category of old-age and early retirement pensioners. In fact, for some illnesses, like lower back, neck and upper back pain, this category reports a lower occurrence of these problems than the working group.

For all reported illnesses, the highest occurrence was found among men and women aged 40–54 years. For psychological disorders, more non-working men than women in the 25–39 age group report this problem, while the highest proportion of reported psychological illnesses is found among women in the 40–54 age group. The occurrence of psychological disorders is also higher among disabled individuals who have been without employment for two to three years, compared with those who have been without employment for up to one year.

Conclusions

The findings in these surveys support the importance of work for the health of individuals. They also underline the need for further research on the negative effects of non-working over time and for greater efforts to improve the situation for this population group, not least by ensuring that the issue receives more attention.

Reference

Aagestad, C., Sterud, T. and Tynes, T., Ikke-yrkesaktive i et yrkes- og helseperspektiv, 2009.

Bjørn Tore Langeland, National Institute of Occupational Health, Department of Occupational Health Surveillance

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