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Common symptoms in middle aged women: their relation to employment status, psychosocial work conditions and social support in a Swedish setting


STUDY OBJECTIVE Over the past few decades there has been a growing interest among researchers, in women's overall life circumstances and their relation to women's health status. For example, paid employment has been considered an important part of women's living conditions in Western societies as the number of women entering the labour market has grown constantly over the past decades. When comparing men's and women's health, one of the most consistent findings is a higher rate of symptoms among women. The most commonly reported symptoms in women are depressive symptoms, symptoms of bodily tension and chronic pain from muscles and joints. The aim of this study was to investigate whether socioeconomic factors, employment status, psychosocial work conditions and social network/support are associated with middle aged women's health status in terms of common symptoms.

DESIGN A mailed questionnaire was used in a cross sectional design assessing socioeconomic factors, employment status, psychosocial work conditions according to the demand/control model, social network/support and an index based on the 15 most frequent symptoms presented by middle aged women when seeking health care.

SETTING A rural community with 13 200 inhabitants in the western part of Sweden.

PARTICIPANTS Women were randomly selected from the general population in the study area, 40 to 50 years of age. The response rate was 81.7 per cent.

MAIN RESULTS Women who were non-employed had a significantly increased odds of a high level of common symptoms (OR=2.82; 95% confidence intervals 1.69, 4.70), as well as women exposed to job strain (OR=3.27; 1.92, 5.57), independently of the level of social network/support. Furthermore, exposure to low social support, low social anchorage or low social participation independently showed significantly increased odds of a high level of common symptoms (OR=2.75; 1.71, 4.42; OR=2.91; 1.81, 4.69 and OR=1.69; 1.10, 2.61, respectively).

CONCLUSIONS Work related factors, such as non-employment and job strain, and circumstances within the private sphere, such as social network/support, seem equally important for middle aged women's health status. These findings ought to have important policy implications and also to be of major importance in a primary health care setting when meeting women who seek health care because of common symptoms.

  • women's health
  • common symptoms
  • job strain
  • non-employment
  • social support

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  • Funding: this study was supported by grants from the Älvsborg County Council, from the National Institute of Public Health and the Swedish Council for Social Research.

  • Conflicts of interest: none.