The Grapevine

Women With Long Work Hours Could Face Significant Risk Of Cancer, Heart Disease

Being an ambitious, hard-working woman is an appealing lifestyle choice for many females in the modern age, but a life revolving around career and extended work hours may do more harm than good when it comes to health. A new study out of The Ohio State University finds that women who averaged 60 hours or more in a work week had a threefold risk of diabetes, cancer, heart trouble, and arthritis.

It seems that 40 hours tends to be the cap when it comes to work-related health problems. The researchers found that the risk for these chronic health issues began increasing when women worked more than 40 hours a week, but they got even worse if the average work week was over 50 hours.

For the study, researchers examined data on 7,500 people from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and tracked these people over the course of 32 years, focusing on the link between the number of hours worked and serious diseases. They analyzed participants who were 40 or over in 1998, asking them survey questions over time about their health and chronic conditions, and averaging work hours over 32 years. The participants reported on whether they developed heart disease, cancer, arthritis or rheumatism, diabetes, chronic lung disease, asthma, depression, or high blood pressure.

working woman Working women who put in over 50 or 60 hours per week have a significantly higher risk of developing chronic diseases. Pixabay, public domain

For women, the link between long work hours and the incidence of these diseases was striking, particularly for heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and diabetes. Overworked men, meanwhile, tended to have a higher prevalence of arthritis, but not other diseases.

It’s tough to say why men didn’t seem to experience the same negative health effects from working too much, but it’s possible that women tend to carry the burdens of other obligations, like family or housework, more than their male counterparts. It’s also possible that women’s tendency to multi-task and thus overwhelm themselves with a large amount of activities can lead to burnout. High levels of stress and anxiety among females may also play a role in slowly wearing down 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,” said Allard Dembe, professor of health services management and policy and lead author of the study, in a press release. “People don’t think that much about how their early work experiences affect them down the road. Women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are setting themselves up for problems later in life.”

The study may push women to be more aware of the risks of their intense career lifestyles. It may also encourage workplaces to require fewer work hours and more time for a work-life balance. But it also leaves several questions: Do men really have a lower risk of work-related chronic diseases? And since the study only focused on early onset diseases, to what extent does overworking earlier in life affect health decades later? More research will be needed, but taking the steps to ensure stress reduction — like exercising and sleeping solid hours — may have long-term health benefits.

Source: Allard D, Xiaoxi Y. Chronic Disease Risks From Exposure To Long-Hour Work Schedules Over a 32-Year Period. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, 2016.

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