Research Reviews


Work-Related Limitations

Male–female differences in work-related activity limitations

A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in early 2017 examined differences between women and men with respect to their work-activity limitations (i.e., reductions in the amount or kind of activity they do at work) due to health issues. In particular, it explored the role of chronic conditions and physical working conditions in explaining these differences.

The study examined data on more than 116,000 working adults who completed Statistics Canada’s Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) between 2003 and 2010. The CCHS asked people if they never, sometimes or often had to reduce their work-activity levels due to a health issue. It also asked about the presence of a number of chronic conditions. Finally, it asked what kind of work the person did, and the researchers used Canada’s national job classification system to categorize the physical strength and standing demands of the job.

rccm-limitations2What did the researchers find?
• More women than men reported work-activity limitations due to a health issue (15.0 and 12.3 per cent, respectively).
• Women were more likely to have arthritis, migraines and depression, while men were more likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
• Men were more likely to work in jobs with heavy strength requirements, while women were more likely to work in jobs that required long periods of standing.
• Arthritis, depression and heart disease had the greatest impact on limiting work activities, as did jobs requiring physical strength and prolonged standing.
• In the end, the differing levels of work-activity limitations among women and men were explained by the different chronic conditions they were likely to have and the different physical demands they faced on the job.

What are the implications?
If men and women had similar chronic conditions and working conditions, they would also have similar levels of activity limitations at work. The study suggests that a gender-sensitive approach may be a good idea to reduce productivity losses due to health issues. That is, programs for women might target arthritis, mood disorders, migraines and prolonged standing, while programs for men might target heart disease, diabetes and high physical strength requirements.

What are some strengths and weaknesses?
The study’s use of the CCHS allowed researchers to take age, body mass index, education, marital status and work hours into account when looking for an association between activity limitations and
chronic conditions or job demands. Information on work-activity limitations and chronic conditions was self-reported, and therefore potentially biased, and information about job demands was imputed.

Reprinted with permission from the Institute for Work and Health.

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