High physical work demands and working life expectancy in Denmark

Tidsskriftartikel - 2020


OBJECTIVE: In most European countries, political reforms gradually increase the statutory retirement age to counter the economic costs of a growing elderly population. However, working to a high age may be difficult for people with hard physical labour. We aim to study the impact of high physical work demands on working life expectancy (WLE).

METHODS: We combined physical work demands assessed by job exposure matrix (JEM) and longitudinal high-quality national registers (outcome) in 1.6 million Danish workers to estimate WLE and years of sickness absence, unemployment and disability pension. The JEM value for physical work demand is a summarised score of eight ergonomic exposures for 317 occupations groups, sex and age. The WLE was estimated using a multistate proportional hazards model in a 4-year follow-up period.

RESULTS: Individuals with high physical work demands had a significantly lower WLE, than those with low physical work demands, with largest differences seen among women. At age 30 years, women with high physical work demands can expect 3.1 years less working, 11 months more of sickness absence and 16 months more of unemployment than low-exposed women. For 30-year-old men, the corresponding results were 2.0 years, 12 months and 8 months, respectively.

CONCLUSION: Our findings show that high physical work demands are a marked risk factor for a shortened working life and increased years of sickness absence and unemployment. The results are important when selecting high-risk occupations, and expand the knowledge base for informed political decision making concerning statutory retirement age.


Pedersen J, Schultz BB, Madsen IEH, Solovieva S, Andersen LL. High physical work demands and working life expectancy in Denmark. Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2020;77:576-582.
doi: 10.1136/oemed-2019-106359

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