Long work hours linked to cancer, heart disease in women

The effect of decades of long work hours on women's health is more significant than on men, possibly because they carry more family responsibility, researchers say.

By Stephen Feller

COLUMBUS, Ohio, June 16 (UPI) -- Women who work long hours may have increased risk for a range of health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer, according to new research.

The amount of time people work has been shown to have an effect on health, and a recent study by researchers at Ohio State University suggests the effects of 50- or 60-hour work weeks has a significantly worse effect on women than men over the course of several decades.


Previous research shows long hours and shift work can adversely affect health.

While the new study is focused on early onset of disease and conditions, the distinction that women are at greater risk for developing health problems because of work is new -- and may be made worse by the overall expectations of women beyond just their careers.

"People don't think that much about how their early work experiences affect them down the road," Dr. Allard Dembe, a professor of health services management and policy at Ohio State University, said in a press release. "Women in their 20s, 30s and 40s are setting themselves up for problems later in life."


For the study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, researchers analyzed data on 7,492 participants in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth who were at least 40 years old in 1998, covering 32 years of job history from 1978 to 2009.

The researchers averaged self-reported work hours during the 32-year period, comparing time spent working to the incidence of heart disease, cancer, arthritis or rheumatism, diabetes or high blood sugar, chronic lung disease, depression and high blood pressure.

Overall, few of the full-time workers in the study worked less than 40 hours per week, with 56 percent averaging 41 to 50 hours, 13 percent averaging 51 to 60 hours and 3 percent averaging more than 60 hours per week.

Although men working long hours had higher incidence of arthritis, none of the other chronic diseases could be linked to long hours at work, however a strong link was seen in women between long work hours and heart disease, cancer, arthritis and diabetes.

Pressure on women from family responsibility, including those who work long hours, was not considered as part of the study, though previous research shows it may have an effect. The researchers acknowledge that women's larger share of family responsibility and potential for work to be less satisfying because of the need to balance family and work may take a larger toll on their health.


"Women -- especially women who have to juggle multiple roles -- feel the effects of intensive work experiences and that can set the table for a variety of illnesses and disability," Dembe said.

Latest Headlines