Early Career Work Schedules Tied to Midlife Health Risks – Neuroscience News

Summary: Nonstandard work schedules early in life correlate with poorer health outcomes at middle age. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth-1979, the research examines over 30 years of employment patterns and their impacts on sleep quality, physical, and mental health by age 50.
The findings indicate that those who transition from stable standard work hours to more volatile schedules experience significant health detriments, with notable disparities across racial and gender lines. This study underscores the long-term health risks associated with irregular work schedules and highlights the need for more equitable work arrangements.
Key Facts:
Source: PLOS
The hours you work earlier in life may be associated with worse health years later, according to a study published April 3, 2024 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Wen-Jui Han from New York University, US.
Studies have consistently shown that nonstandard work schedules—working outside the traditional nine-to-five workday—can negatively impact physical and mental health as well as social and family life.
The current study uses a life-course approach to provide a longer-term perspective on how work schedule patterns throughout a person’s working life impact their health in middle age.
Han used data from The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth-1979 (NLSY79), which includes data on more than 7,000 people in the US over 30 years, to see whether employment patterns in younger adulthood were associated with sleep, physical health, and mental health at age 50.
Han found that around a quarter of participants (26%) worked stable standard hours, with a further third (35%) working mostly standard hours. 17 percent initially worked standard hours in their 20s, later transitioning into volatile working patterns – a combination of evening, night, and variable hours. 12 percent initially worked standard hours and then switched to variable hours. A final ten percent were mostly not working over this period.
Compared to individuals who mostly worked during traditional daytime hours throughout their working career, those whose careers featured more volatile work schedules slept less, had lower sleep quality, and were more likely to report depressive symptoms at age 50.
The most striking results were seen in those who had stable work hours in their 20s and then transitioned to more volatile work hours in their 30s. This effect size was significant and similar to that of being educated only to below high school level.
Han also found racial and gender-related trends. For example, Black Americans were more likely to have volatile work schedules associated with poorer health, highlighting how some groups may disproportionately shoulder the adverse consequences of such employment patterns.
Han suggests that volatile work schedules are associated with poor sleep, physical fatigue, and emotional exhaustion, which may make us vulnerable to an unhealthy life.
The study also suggests that positive and negative impacts of work schedules on health can accumulate over one’s lifetime while highlighting how employment patterns can contribute to health inequities.
Han adds: “Work that is supposed to bring resources to help us sustain a decent life has now become a vulnerability to a healthy life due to the increasing precarity in our work arrangements in this increasingly unequal society. People with vulnerable social positions (e.g., females, Blacks, low-education) disproportionately shoulder these health consequences.”
Author: Hanna Abdallah
Source: PLOS
Contact: Hanna Abdallah – PLOS
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News
Original Research: Open access.
How our longitudinal employment patterns might shape our health as we approach middle adulthood—US NLSY79 cohort” by Wen-Jui Han et al. PLOS ONE
How our longitudinal employment patterns might shape our health as we approach middle adulthood—US NLSY79 cohort
Recent labor market transformations brought on by digital and technological advances, together with the rise of the service economy since the 1980s, have subjected more workers to precarious conditions, such as irregular work hours and low or unpredictable wages, threatening their economic well-being and health.
This study advances our understanding of the critical role employment plays in our health by examining how employment patterns throughout our working lives, based on work schedules, may shape our health at age 50, paying particular attention to the moderating role of social position.
The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth-1979 (NLSY79), which has collected 30+ years of longitudinal information, was used to examine how employment patterns starting at ages 22 (n ≈ 7,336) might be associated with sleep hours and quality, physical and mental functions, and the likelihood of reporting poor health and depressive symptoms at age 50.
Sequence analysis found five dominant employment patterns between ages 22 and 49: “mostly not working” (10%), “early standard hours before transitioning into mostly variable hours” (12%), “early standard hours before transitioning into volatile schedules” (early ST-volatile, 17%), “mostly standard hours with some variable hours” (35%), and “stable standard hours” (26%).
The multiple regression analyses indicate that having the “early ST-volatile” schedule pattern between ages 22 and 49 was consistently, significantly associated with the poorest health, including the fewest hours of sleep per day, the lowest sleep quality, the lowest physical and mental functions, and the highest likelihood of reporting poor health and depressive symptoms at age 50.
In addition, social position plays a significant role in these adverse health consequences. For example, whereas non-Hispanic White women reported the most hours of sleep and non-Hispanic Black men reported the fewest, the opposite was true for sleep quality.
In addition, non-Hispanic Black men with less than a high school education had the highest likelihood of reporting poor health at age 50 if they engaged in an employment pattern of “early ST-volatile” between ages 22 and 49. In comparison, non-Hispanic White men with a college degree or above education had the lowest likelihood of reporting poor health if they engaged in an employment pattern of stable standard hours.
This analysis underscores the critical role of employment patterns in shaping our daily routines, which matter to sleep and physical and mental health as we approach middle adulthood.
Notably, the groups with relatively disadvantaged social positions are also likely to be subject to nonstandard work schedules, including non-Hispanic Blacks and people with low education; hence, they were more likely than others to shoulder the harmful links between nonstandard work schedules and sleep and health, worsening their probability of maintaining and nurturing their health as they approach middle adulthood.
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