Longer Work Hours May be linked to Higher Incidence of Chronic Disease in Women

In 2016 Ohio State University conducted a study to determine if there was a relationship between serious diseases and hours worked over a 32-year timeframe.  Self-reported data was collected from 12,000 American participants aged 40-50 years through interviews, which provided the researchers with self-reported information regarding health status, chronic conditions, and the average hours worked each week. The head researcher on this study referred to the results they found among female workers as “striking”. The analysis found a clear and strong relationship between women who worked longer hours and heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and diabetes.1


Data Trends

In this study, the researchers discovered that the risk for these diseases began to climb when women worked more than 40 hours per week over three decades. The risk significantly increased at 50 hours worked per week, and by 60 hours per week the risk was nearly tripled.1

Each year the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes the American Time Use Survey including information regarding the amount of time people spend doing various activities. According to this survey, American women spend an average of 7.2 hours working per weekday. This equates to about a 36-hour workweek.2The data here indicates that a significant portion of women in the workforce who are working above the average number of hours per week may be at higher risk for developing a chronic condition such as diabetes, arthritis, or heart disease.


Gender Differences

Interestingly, the researchers did not find this same correlation between longer hours of work and the development of chronic conditions in men, even though data demonstrates men tend to work longer workweeks on average (41 hours).2Men who worked longer hours had a higher incidence of arthritis, but none of the other identified chronic diseases. In contrast to the research findings of women, men who worked 41-50 hours per week actually had a lower risk for heart disease, lung disease, and depression compared to men who worked fewer than 40 hours.1

Some additional studies that have been conducted may help us to understand why the results were strikingly different for men and women in this study. Current data suggests women report facing higher levels of work-related stress compared to males, with stress levels reaching their peak for those aged 35-44 years.3This age corresponds to when many women are not only having to perform the duties required for their job, but also balance substantial family responsibilities.1


Impact on Business and Employers

Employers who consistently require employees to work beyond the 40-hour workweek could ultimately be adversely impacting their business in the long-term. Accidents, absenteeism, employee turnover, diminished productivity, and direct medical, legal, and insurance costs become increasingly prevalent when employees are experiencing high levels of work-related stress.4Conversely, businesses whose employees are healthier have been shown to sustain a competitive edge over their competitors through increased productivity rates and decreased healthcare costs.5


Now that you are more aware of the stress and chronic health risks associated with longer workweeks for American women, you can start to understand the underlying motives surrounding why more companies and organizations are pushing to implement employee wellness programs. If employee wellness goes overlooked, the individual as well as the company can be negatively impacted as a result.




  1. Dembe AE, Yao X. Chronic Disease Risks From Exposure to Long-Hour Work Schedules Over a 32-Year Period: Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 2016;58(9):861-867. doi:10.1097/JOM.0000000000000810
  2. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. American Time Use Survey – 2017 Results. Bls.gov. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/atus.pdf. Published June 28, 2018. Accessed November 26, 2018.
  3. American Psychological Association. Gender and Stress. Apa.org. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2010/gender-stress.aspx. Accessed November 26, 2018.
  4. Murphy LR. Stress management in work settings: a critical review of the health effects. Am J Health Promot. 1996;11(2):112-135. doi:10.4278/0890-1171-11.2.112
  5. Baicker K, Cutler D, Song Z. Workplace wellness programs can generate savings. Health Aff (Millwood). 2010;29(2):304-311. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2009.0626