Role of chronic conditions and physical job demands on differences in work activity limitations between women and men

In brief

  • More women than men report activity limitations at work due to a health issue.
  • This difference can be explained by the different types of chronic health conditions they have and the different types of jobs they do.

Published: January 2017

Why was this study done?

As the average age of the labour force increases, the impact of age-related chronic conditions on the ability of people to work productively is getting more attention. This study examined differences between women and men with respect to their work activity limitations (i.e. reductions in the amount or kind of activity they do at work) due to health issues, and in particular the role of chronic conditions and physical work conditions in explaining these differences.

How was the study done?

The study team examined data for over 116,000 working adults who completed Statistics Canada’s Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) between 2003 and 2010. The CCHS asked people if they never, sometimes or often had to reduce their work activity levels due to a health issue. It also asked about the presence of a number of chronic conditions. Finally, it asked what kind of work they did, and the researchers used Canada’s national job classification system to categorize the physical strength and standing demands of the job.

What did the researchers find?

  • More women than men reported work activity limitations due to a health issue (15.0 and 12.3 per cent, respectively).
  • Women were more likely than men to have arthritis, migraines and depression, while men were more likely than women to have high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
  • Men were more likely to work in jobs with heavy strength requirements, and women were more likely to work in jobs requiring long periods of standing.
  • Arthritis, depression and heart disease had the greatest impact (among the chronic conditions included in the study) on limiting work activities, as did jobs requiring physical strength and prolonged standing.
  • In the end, the differing levels of work activity limitations among women and men were completely explained by the different chronic conditions they were likely to have and the different physical demands they were likely to face on the job.

What are the implications of the study?

If men and women had similar chronic conditions and working conditions, they would also have similar levels of activity limitations at work. The study suggests a gender-sensitive approach may be a good idea to reduce productivity losses due to health issues. That is, programs for women might target arthritis, mood disorders, migraines and prolonged standing, while programs for men might target heart disease, diabetes and high physical strength requirements.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the study?

The study’s use of the CCHS allowed researchers to take age, body mass index, education, marital status, work hours and more into account when looking for an association between activity limitations and chronic conditions/job demands. Information on work activity limitations and chronic conditions was self-reported, and therefore potentially biased, and information about job demands was imputed.