Work hard and you’ll go far: It’s a common belief, especially in the U.S. But researchers at Ohio State University (OSU) have recently released data collected over a 32-year period that indicates a strong work ethic might lead to an increased risk of chronic disease.
The study was published this month in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Leading author Allard Dembe, a professor of health services management and policy at OSU’s College of Public Health, examined the work schedules and medical history of 7492 men and women living and working in the United States from 1978 to 2009, drawn from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Men who toiled for more than 60 hours a week were two times more likely to suffer from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis than men working 30 to 40 hours. Meanwhile, men who worked 41 to 50 hours a week actually had fewer incidences of lung or heart disease and depression than those who worked 30 to 40 hours a week.
More alarming were Dembe’s findings among female subjects. Women who worked in excess of 60 hours a week had three times the risk of diabetes, cancers, and heart disease, along with nearly four times the risk of arthritis, of women who worked 40 hours or less.
Why there seems to be a significant gender discrepancy is unclear. Dembe told UPI that it could be attributable to the fact that women take on the lion's share of family responsibility, resulting in more stress, less sleep, and inattention to personal health: "My speculation is, they have to balance all these other roles, parenting, child care, domestic responsibilities, worrying about everyone's health care," he said.
Dembe also stated that the increased risk rose in correlation with the number of hours worked: The risk was greater in women exceeding 50 hours than those who exceeded 40, for example. The study, however, was unable to determine whether mandatory overtime was different from volunteered overtime, or whether these risk factors will continue to climb as subjects get older; all were 46–53 years old when research was concluded.
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