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Working beyond the 9–5 leads to health “vulnerability” later in life

Working long hours earlier in life may be linked to worse health as you age, a study has found.

Wen-Jui Han, from New York University, analyzed data from more than 7,000 people in the United States, collected over 30 years, to see how their employment patterns in younger adulthood affected them when they turned 50.

Specifically, Han looked at how people’s work may have impacted their sleep, physical health and mental health. She found that volatile or unpredictable work schedules are associated with poor sleep, physical fatigue, and emotional exhaustion, which may make us vulnerable to an unhealthy life.

“Work that is supposed to bring resources to help us sustain a decent life has now become a vulnerability to a healthy life due to the increasing precarity in our work arrangements in this increasingly unequal society,” Han said in a statement.

The study found that those who had more when they were younger—for example, those who worked evenings, nights and variable hours—slept less, had lower sleep quality and were more likely to report depressive symptoms at age 50, compared to people who worked traditional daytime hours.

The most striking results were seen in those who had stable work hours in their 20s and then transitioned to more volatile work hours in their 30s. These individuals had significantly later in life.

WorkA stock photo shows a person at work. Working erratic hours can lead to poor health later in life, a study suggests. Getty Images

The findings, published in the journal , also revealed specific racial and gender-related trends. For example, Black Americans were more likely to have volatile work schedules associated with poorer health.

Overall, Black males and females with less than a high school degree and a volatile employment pattern for most of their working lives had the highest likelihood of reporting poor health among all respondents.

People with volatile work patterns were found to have a significantly higher likelihood of reporting poor health than those mostly unemployed. Although this may underscore how such work patterns might cause chronic stress, the result may also be explained by the statistical analysis used to carry out the study.

“Those who did not work throughout most of the working years were more likely to be in vulnerable social positions with health issues during the early years of their lives, and that might have explained why their work pattern was mostly not working,” Han said in a press interview.

“The empirical results reported in the paper were based on the statistical analysis that considered these relatively disadvantaged characteristics (e.g., health issues), and that might have explained why we do not observe many significantly adverse health issues among them compared to those with stable standard schedules.”

Not only does the study emphasize the link between volatile work schedules and poor health, it also suggests that positive and on health can accumulate over a person’s lifetime.

Furthermore, it suggests that some groups may be disproportionately affected by the adverse consequences of certain employment patterns.