Published on: July 3, 2016
Career women have steep demands on their time, but expanding their work hours beyond the traditional 40 a week can have a devastating impact on their health. A study from Ohio State University found that women who work 60 hours a week for the bulk of their careers triple their risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
The risk begins to mount when women work more than 40 hours a week for 30 years, and escalate when they work more than 50 hours a week.
“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.
But prior to the Ohio study, efforts to examine a connection between long hours and chronic illness have had mixed results, in large part because it’s difficult to obtain long-term data on work patterns and health, Dembe said.
The researchers averaged the self-reported hours worked each week over 32 years and compared the hours worked to the incidence of eight chronic diseases: heart disease, cancer (except skin cancer), arthritis or rheumatism, diabetes or high blood sugar, chronic lung disease including bronchitis or emphysema, asthma, depression and high blood pressure. They also examined the results by gender.
Fewer than half of the full-time workers put in a total of 40 hours or less each 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 were striking, Dembe said. 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. And those 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.
Since the data only includes chronic diseases reported by age 40 or 50, this study addresses only early-onset disease, says Dembe. It doesn’t shed light on the possible associations between long hours and lifetime risks, which could prove even more dramatic.
The study was published this week online in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
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