With an ageing population, the number of retired individuals increases compared to the number in paid employment. In many countries this constitutes a significant challenge to public finances. To maintain a welfare state in the future, a continued high employment rate among older workers is important.

Factors in the working environment (work exposures) are known predictors of early exit from paid employment, such as disability pension and early old age retirement. For instance, harmful work exposures may affect a person’s health or motivation to stay with an employer. A discrepancy between work requirements and the ability to meet them, either directly or through health effects, may also tip the balance.

On the other hand, work exposures may contribute to prolonging somebody’s working life, for example by facilitating skill development and skill utilisation.

Gender differences

How, and to what degree, various work exposures contribute to withdrawal from paid employment may differ between men and women. In a recently published study, scientists at STAMI examined whether there are gender differences in the relationship between several psychosocial and biomechanical work exposures at age 62 and the age of exit from paid employment.

In general, the studied work exposures were associated with a younger exit age. Workers with occupations where they were exposed to these factors at the age of 62, exited earlier than their peers in occupations without this exposure.

– For many of the studied exposures, there was little or no difference in exit age when we compared men and women. But for some exposures, a gender difference was observed. This difference was most profound for the exposures monotonous work and high psychological demands, tells Karina Undem, PhD research fellow at STAMI and the study’s first author.

Must be taken into consideration

For women, monotonous work was associated with an older exit age, while for men, monotonous work was associated with a younger exit age. When it came to high psychological demands, the picture was reversed: these were associated with a younger exit age for women and an older exit age for men.

According to Undem, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the same monotonous work affects men and women differently. The findings may instead reflect that men and women often have different occupations, and thus different types and degrees of monotonous work.

The fact that work exposures are associated with different probabilities of exit from paid work for women and men, indicates that gender should be taken into consideration when looking at measures to prevent early withdrawal from paid employment, Undem emphasizes.

She adds that knowledge of how work exposures are associated with early exit from paid employment among older workers, is crucial for extending the working life.
– However, further studies are needed to investigate how we best may succeed in this endeavour.