Working beyond the regular 9–5 schedule could lead to poorer health decades later

DNVN - According to a study by Wen-Jui Han from New York University, working more hours early in life may be linked to poorer health years later.

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Nonstandard work schedules, or working outside of the traditional nine-to-five workday, have consistently been shown in studies to have a negative impact on physical and mental health, as well as social and family relationships. Using a life-course approach, this study offers a longer-term view of how work schedule patterns during an individual's working life affect their middle-aged health.

Han examined data from The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth-1979 (NLSY79), which included information on over 7,000 people in the United States over a 30-year period, to determine whether employment patterns in young adulthood were associated with sleep, physical health, and mental health at 50.

Han discovered that approximately 25% of the participants maintained consistent standard work hours, while 35% worked primarily standard hours. A total of 17% of individuals in their twenties initially worked standard hours before transitioning to volatile work patterns that included variable, evening, and night shifts. Twelve percent of workers began with standard hours and later converted to variable hours. A mere ten percent remained largely unemployed during this time frame.

At age 50, those whose careers were characterised by more volatile work schedules slept less, reported lower quality sleep, and were more likely to experience depressive symptoms, as compared to those whose working hours were predominantly traditional daytime. Those who transitioned from stable to volatile work hours between their 20s and 30s exhibited the most remarkable improvements. This effect size was substantial and comparable to the effect of having completed only elementary school.

Han additionally identified gender and racial trends. An illustration of this is the fact that Black Americans had a higher propensity for unstable work schedules, which were correlated with poorer health. This demonstrates how certain groups may bear a disproportionate share of the negative effects of such employment patterns.

Volatile work schedules, according to Han, are linked to insufficient rest, physical and emotional exhaustion, all of which may render us susceptible to leading an unhealthy lifestyle. The study emphasises how employment patterns can contribute to health disparities and also implies that both positive and negative effects of work schedules on health can accumulate over an individual's lifetime.

Han adds: "Work that is supposed to bring resources to help us sustain a decent life has now become a vulnerability to a healthy life due to the increasing precarity in our work arrangements in this increasingly unequal society. People with vulnerable social positions (e.g., females, Blacks, low-education) disproportionately shoulder these health consequences."

Reference: Wen-Jui Han. How our longitudinal employment patterns might shape our health as we approach middle adulthood—US NLSY79 cohort. PLOS ONE, 2024; 19 (4): e0300245 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0300245

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