When it comes to working, it's safe to say that women don't have it easy. In fact, recent studies show that working long hours increases health risks for women. That's right: Not only do women have to worry about battling sexism in the workplace, employment discrimination, and maternity care, but now women who are able to work are at a higher risk for serious health issues as they work longer and longer hours. What's even more interesting? As far as this study's findings are concerned, it appears that men who work longer hours do not experience this increase in risk for health problems. I know, I know: What gives?
The recent study published in Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine explores this phenomenon: How does working more hours impact women? Are we getting to a point where we're literally working ourselves to death (or if not to death, at least to long-term sickness)? While we can't necessarily determine why this is the case, as there are likely multiple factors at play in terms of causation, and people have vastly different experiences that could lead to having a lot of possible variables at play, it's important to recognize that this trend is a major finding in itself.
In this study specifically, lead researcher Allard Dembe, a professor of health services management and policy at OSU’s College of Public Health, looked at the medical history and work schedules of 7,492 men and women living and working in the United States from 1978 to 2009. Dembe retrieved this data from a survey on the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Notably, all of the subjects were were 46 to 53 years old when research was concluded, so it's important to remember that this data was not conducted on people just entering the workforce (or for that matter, on people who have already retired).
In terms of men, it appears that working longer hours can lead to higher risk of certain health problems. For instance, men who worked 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, which is pretty scary stuff. On the other hand, the study results suggest that men who work 41 to 50 hours a week actually have fewer incidences of lung or heart disease and cases of depression than those who worked 30 to 40 hours a week.
When it comes to women, though, the results are truly terrifying: Women who worked more than 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. Dembe speculates that for women, it may come down to balancing too many things and not having enough time for their individual health and needs, explaining, "My speculation is, they have to balance all these other roles, parenting, child care, domestic responsibilities, worrying about everyone's health care." Which, unfortunately, sounds like it could be very, very true for many women who are trying to juggle it all.
Women's health is an under-discussed issue in general, and especially as we fight for better opportunities and protections in terms of employment, the actual tolls women's health face at work is an issue we rarely give a lot of talking time to. Too often with women's health issues, such as menstruation, miscarriages, or "invisible" illnesses, women are forced to keep their pain private, especially when it comes to the workplace. Is it possible this leads to us damaging our health while trying to better our careers, make livable incomes, and "earn our keep" in the office?