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Women, particularly those who have multiple roles, who put in long hours for the majority of their careers may triple the risk of diabetes, cancer, heart trouble and arthritis, according to new research from The Ohio State University.
The risk begins to climb when women put in more than 40 hours and takes a decidedly bad turn above 50 hours, researchers found.
“Women 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, published online in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
“People don’t think that much about how their early work experiences affect them down the road,” he said. “Women in their 20s, 30s and 40s are setting themselves up for problems later in life.”
Men with tough work schedules appeared to fare much better, found the researchers.
Dembe said the difference was more marked in women with multiple roles, such as mums. Previous research suggests that women’s tendency to take on the lion’s share of family responsibility means they may face more pressure and stress than men when they work long hours. On top of that, work for women may be less satisfying because of the need to balance work demands with family obligations, Dembe said.
Employers and government regulators should be aware of the risks, especially to women who are required to regularly work beyond a 40-hour work week, he said. He proposed more scheduling flexibility and on-the-job health coaching, screening and support.
The researchers analysed the relationship between serious disease and hours worked over a 32-year period based on the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, which includes interviews with more than 12,000 Americans born between 1957 and 1964. 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.