13.02.2007

Older Women, Work and Health

The British Age and Employment Network has published a brochure reviewing the
evidence concerning 'Older Women, Work and Health'.

In the light of government fears of a 'dependency crisis', older employees are
now being encouraged to stay at work longer. But we know very little about how
this could affect their health.This is especially true of women workers.Though
their participation in the labour force continues to grow, few studies have
explored the links between their health and well-being, especially in older age
groups.

At all stages of their working lives women are more likely than men to work
part-time; they are concentrated in certain areas of employment; they are more
likely to be in low-status jobs; and they earn less than men.

All these factors influence the well-being of women workers, especially in the
later years of their employment. But the combination of age and gender
discrimination means that few studies have explored their circumstances or
analysed their occupational health needs.

There is a growing body of evidence that waged work can have both positive and
negative effects on women's health. But the balance of effects varies according
to the women's circumstances. The impact of employment on well-being is
affected by factors such as income, housing conditions, domestic and caring
responsibilities ­ and, of course, age.

The benefits that work outside the home can bring are well documented.
Financial rewards are very important, especially for those (including widows)
with few resources to support themselves. Work can also make a major
contribution to mental health, offering a source of self-esteem and
independence as well as a network of social support.

But work may also pose threats to women's well-being, especially for those in
lower-status, more physically demanding jobs. Many occupational health risks
are the same for both sexes. However, there are also significant differences in
the hazards facing the two groups. Some of these reflect biological differences
between women and men but others are a consequence of the differences between
male and female lifestyles.

Researchers have identified important reproductive hazards for both male and
female workers. However, we know very little about the impact of sex differences
in occupational health in older age groups. More is known about social or
gender differences. Women and men tend to work in different industries and
different jobs, which expose them to different physical and psychosocial
hazards. Women's relative lack of autonomy and low status seem to be especially important here.

Women and men also have different responsibilities at home. It is women who
tend to have the greatest burden of domestic labour, in addition to the
pressures of waged work. There is some evidence of changes in the gender
division of domestic responsibilities but more traditional patterns tend to
remain among older couples. 'Mid-life' women aged 45-65 are also most likely to
be combining employment with care of dependants, which can have significant
effects on their own health.

Major health problems of older women workers: stress and musculo-skeletal
problems

Many studies have shown that women workers are more likely than their male
co-workers to report work-related psychological distress.The most stressful
forms of employment are those which are poorly paid, make high demands but
offer little control.Workers who have direct responsibility for the fate of
others are also more likely to experience the 'burnout' most frequently
reported by those employed in health care and education. Such pressures can be
a risk factor for coronary heart disease, especially if they are exacerbated by
additional pressures at home.

The brochure gives detailed recommendations for changes in the workplace; i.e.

  • Tackling hazardous work environments

  • Reshaping the organisation of work

  • Promoting health in the workplace

  • Wider public policies for meeting the health of older women workers




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AplusA-online.de - Source: TAEN ­ The Age and Employment Network