Could your job increase your risk of early death? Study says maybe

A new study has found that workers in unstable employment situations may be at risk of early death.

 A stressed worker holds up a sign saying 'help' while surrounded by colleagues in an office. (photo credit: PEXELS)
A stressed worker holds up a sign saying 'help' while surrounded by colleagues in an office.
(photo credit: PEXELS)

A new study published in Science Daily has found that precarious employment conditions can increase risk of early death.

The study, which was financed by the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare (Forte), examined the ways in which precarious employment affects the risk of death.

Precarious employment refers to jobs with short contracts such as temping, and jobs with low wages and a lack of influence and rights. These types of jobs do not offer predictability and security.

"This is the first study to show that changing from precarious employment to secure employment can reduce the risk of death," said one the paper’s co-authors Theo Bodin, assistant professor at the Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institute. 

"It's the same as saying that the risk of early death is higher if one keeps working in jobs without a secure employment contract."

  Stressed workers in an office. (credit: PEXELS)
Stressed workers in an office. (credit: PEXELS)

The researchers used registry data from over 250,000 workers in Sweden between the ages of 20 and 55 gathered over a period from 2005 to 2017. It included both people who shifted from insecure working conditions to secure working conditions, and those who remained in insecure working conditions.

The study revealed that people who switched from precarious to secure employment had a 20% lower risk of death, regardless of what happened afterward, compared to those who remained in precarious employment. If they remained in secure employment for 12 years, the risk of death decreased by 30%.

"Using this large population database allowed us to take account of many factors that could influence mortality, such as age, other diseases that workers can suffer from or life changes like divorce," explains Nuria Matilla-Santander, assistant professor and co-author of the study. 

"Because of the methods we used, we can be relatively certain that the difference in mortality is due to the precariousness of employment rather than individual factors."

"The results are important since they show that the elevated mortality rate observed in workers can be avoided. If we reduce precariousness in the labor market, we can avoid premature deaths in Sweden."

Other studies with similar findings 

A Finnish study from 2003 found that workers transitioning from temporary to permanent employment were at lower risk of death and a French study from 2013 found that temporarily-employed workers were at a higher risk of mortality than their peers who were permanent workers.

Another study in the United States from 2019 also found links between income instability and higher mortality rates.

While the Swedish study did not reveal the exactly how precarious employment leads to premature death, it is likely a combination of causes. Precariously employed workers are more likely to suffer from economic insecurity and lack of material needs along with hazardous working conditions and chronic stress, which could all lead to early death. 

According to Dr. Matilla-Santander, the next stage of the research is to examine the specific causes of mortality.