Work accounts for a significant portion of Americans’ daily lives and is increasingly recognized as a determinant of health status. Research dating to the Whitehall study results of the 1970s has shown a relationship between occupation and long-term health outcomes including mortality, diabetes and cardiovascular disease that cannot be explained by differences in income, education, health behaviors or access to health insurance (Marmot et al., 1978). Several studies have found that older workers retire from physically demanding jobs more rapidly than from other types of jobs (i.e. Filer and Petri, 1988; Mitchell et al., 1988; Hayward et al., 1989; Case and Deaton, 2005), but have focused on characteristics of current jobs, which are likely jointly determined with health and labor force status. A growing literature in economics and medicine finds lasting health effects of adverse early life health exposures, including the earliest events experienced in utero (Almond, 2006; Smith, 2009; Almond and Currie, 2011), suggesting that exposure to job demands throughout the lifecourse may influence work capacity and retirement decisions later in life.
In this paper, we examine the relationship between occupational exposures which may harm or hurt health including physical and cognitive job demands on subjective and objective measures of whether health limits an individual’s ability to work at various ages, application for and receipt of Disability Insurance (DI) benefits, and age at initial Social Security benefit claiming using lifetime jobs reported by older adult respondents in the Health and Retirement Study. This enables us to assess intensity of exposure that account for the nature of occupational demands and the duration of a worker’s exposure to a given characteristic. Our study extends prior research by using a more comprehensive and accurate classification system for job characteristics, accounting for exposure to job characteristics prior to age 50, when most studies of job characteristics and retirement start, and including women, who have traditionally been excluded from many studies in this literature.
We assessed the cumulative effect of job demands on health and retirement outcomes later in life. Using comprehensive data form the Health and Retirement Study and O*Net, we consistently found that both non-routine cognitive analytic and non-routine physical demands were associated with worse health, earlier labor force exit, and increased use of Disability Insurance. Findings sup- port growing concern that both physical and cognitive stressors in the work place can adversely impact employee health. Since workers are increasingly concentrating in jobs with higher levels of cognitive demands, this may be a promising area for job resign or other interventions to reduce this health impact.
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